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"Visit then this soul of mine, 
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief; 
Fill me, Radiancy Divine, 
Scatter all mine unbelief; 
More and more Thyself display, 
Shining to the perfect day." 











rflHE following papers have been written on 
-*- various occasions and at considerable intervals 
of time. Some amount of repetition will be found 
in them owing to the fact that the point of view 
they represent — that of Rational Mysticism — is not 
so often distinctly recognised as it is unconsciously 
occupied. Its full acceptance involves I believe a 
certain habitual method of regarding the relation 
between the inner and outer regions of experience. 
And in order to make the drift of some of these 
papers clear to hearers unfamiliar with that method, 
it seemed on several occasions necessary to state it 

To re- write the whole series with a view to getting 
rid of these repetitions would be not only laborious 
but dangerous, as suggesting an attempt at something 
more systematic and adequate than I could achieve. 
I have therefore thought it best to leave the papers 

vi Preface 

almost untouched ; trusting to the kindly indulgence 
of my readers in judging of reflections so scattered 
and so essentially fugitive in form, though all springing 
from a common foundation of unaltering conviction. 

For a fuller and more deliberate statement of my 
belief regarding the Inner Light and Divine Guidance, 
I must refer to Chap. II of Quaker Strongholds 1 . 

I must acknowledge with thanks the permission 
kindly given to me by the Editors of the Friends' 
Quarterly Examiner, the ComhiU Magazine, and 
the Hibbert Journal, to reprint articles which have 
appeared in those periodicals. 

C. E. S. 

The Porch, Cambridge. 

1 Quaker Strongholds, by C. B. S., published by Headley Bros., 
Bishopsgate Street Without. 4th Edition, 1907. 
















It will not, I hope, be inferred from the title 
chosen for this paper that I am undertaking to treat 
the subject of mysticism either historically, or from 
the point of view of theology or psychology. All these 
things would be quite beyond my power. My aim 
is only to describe a certain position or experience 
familiar to many of us in daily life, but not always 
I think recognised with sufficient clearness even by 
those to whom it belongs ; and to make some practical 
suggestions as to our best wisdom regarding it. 

In addition to the vagueness associated (perhaps 
inevitably) with the name of mystic, there is a certain 
ambiguity in its application to individuals. In calling 
any one by that name one may be attributing to him 
either a belief or a gift. As I understand the word, 
a mystic is either one who has, or one who believes 
in, a certain illumination from within. I wish this 

1 An address given to the Sunday Society at Newnham 

8. 1 

2 Thoughts on the Central Radiomce 

evening, as far as I am able, to consider what is really 
meant by the "inner light" of the mystic; what is 
involved in its possession, or in the belief that others 
possess it; and what is its relation to reason and 

I will begin by owning that I have no hesitation 
in describing myself as a rational mystic. What 
precisely does this claim mean? 

It means, in the first place, that I share the belief 
of the religious society to which I belong (the Society 
of Friends) that there is given to every human being 
a measure, or germ, of something of an illuminating 
nature — something of which the early Friends often 
spoke as " a seed of life " — a measure of that " light, 
life, spirit and grace of Christ" which they recognised 
as the gift of God to all men. They dwelt as much 
on the universality as on the inwardness of the grace 
of Christ — the power of God unto salvation. They 
believed that this seed of life, if yielded to, obeyed, 
and followed, would lead every one to salvation, with 
or without the outward knowledge of the Gospel of 

To believe this is I suppose to be in some sense a 
mystic. It is at any rate to believe that the " mystery 
of godliness" is at work in all directions ; that 
wherever there is a human spirit there is a Divine 
process, a Divine possibility, the issues of which ex- 
tend beyond human ken. And this faith is I believe 

Rational Mysticism 3 

emphatically rational, in the sense that many good 
reasons may be given for holding it. I am not going 
to attempt to set forth one of them ; but I wish 
distinctly to make the claim of reasonableness for the 
mystical position, although it may imply the existence 
of something beyond reason ; or rather I claim it 
with the more confidence on that very account, for 
I believe that Reason itself points in the same 
direction — that is to something beyond itself. 

Those who have preached the doctrine of the 
Light within have generally appealed with confidence 
to the experience of their hearers, expecting to find 
in every heart a witness to its reality. They have 
met with a wide and general response ; yet their 
doctrine is certainly not universally accepted There 
certainly are people who do not recognise in them- 
selves any such inner illumination. It may of course 
be said that they must know best ; and that a light 
which they are not conscious of possessing is no light 
at all. I fully recognise that we cannot reasonably 
hold a belief in the universality of saving Light, unless 
we assume that the consciousness of light is not neces- 
sarily co-extensive with its existence ; in other words 
that that of which we speak under the figure of Light 
may exist in a latent state. This is in fact my own 
belief The indispensable and most beautiful figure of 
Light points I believe to something which it is hard to 
distinguish from the goodness and the grace of God ; 


4 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

from the Divine Spirit and life and power. And if 
we believe at all in this Divine power and grace, we 
can hardly help thinking of it as universal. There 
may indeed be some who still think of God's grace 
as something to be bestowed only on a select few. 
I believe that the increase of outward Light — the 
growth of knowledge and of clearness of thought — is 
fast rendering such views untenable by people living 
in the open sunshine of our day. But I must not 
plunge into the theological and psychological diffi- 
culties of the question of universality. 

Whatever our belief on this point, — whether we 
regard the Light as a universal though often latent 
possession of humanity — or whether we consider the 
very possibility of a difference of opinion as evidence 
against the universality of the inner Light itself — 
whichever of these views may be the truest, our 
present concern is not with them, but with the 
meaning of spiritual illumination where it does exist. 

It is quite certain that the degrees of such light 
experienced by different people, and by the same 
person at different times, do vary indefinitely. We 
need not go far afield to find cases in which a feeble 
and intermittent glimmer is all that is recognised in 
the depths of which we are speaking. There are 
people whose spiritual perception is so dim that they 
hardly like to call it Light ; while others tell of a 
glory of illumination as overpowering to the inward 

Rationed Mysticism 5 

vision as is the uncurtained light of the sun to the 
steady gaze of the natural eye ; or it may be of flashes 
of revelation, which have changed for them the whole 
aspect of life as the blaze of lightning reveals the 
midnight landscape. 

Between these two extremes there seems to be 
every variety of experience with regard to the light 
vouchsafed ; and the study of " varieties of religious 
experience" is certainly one of profound and growing 
interest. It seems to me that one of the greatest 
gains which have come and are coming to us from 
the encounter between theology and natural science 
by which we have been so severely shaken and sifted, 
is this ; — that we are learning to recognise the infinite 
variety and complexity of the conditions under which 
people are struggling towards Truth, Goodness, and 
Beauty. We are beginning to see that we cannot 
blame people, the very focus of whose inner sight is 
unlike our own, for not thinking or feeling as we 
do on the deepest and most comprehensive of all 

Nevertheless Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, 
Truth and Falsehood are for ever opposed ; and we 
must I believe come more and more to recognise 
that whatever else this mysterious life of ours may be, 
it is certainly a school. And a school implies disci- 
pline, and discipline implies a Teacher : and belief in 
the Light within resolves itself into belief in an Inward 

6 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

Monitor — in One whose Voice, once heard, must 
necessarily be the supreme inspiration of our lives. 

I said that in describing any one as a mystic you 
may be attributing to him either a belief or a gift. 
I have no hesitation in calling myself a mystic, and a 
rational mystic, in the sense of believing in mystical 
experience, and of considering myself as having 
reasonable warrant for doing so. To call myself a 
mystic in the other sense might seem to be claiming 
not only a share in what I regard as a universal 
possession, but an unusual degree of inward illumin- 
ation. The gift of the mystic is I believe akin to the 
gift of poetry. To call any one by that name 
generally implies not only that he is a pupil in the 
school of the inner life, but that he has a special 
aptitude for learning the lessons there taught. You 
will not I trust suspect me of claiming the possession 
of this gift in any unusual degree. Yet I do wish it 
to be understood that I speak from some degree of 
first-hand experience, whether it be much or little as 
compared with that of others, and whatever may 
be my success or failure in the attempt to describe 
it. I speak not only as believing that there is a 
school of the inner, or " interior," life, but as having 
in my measure been consciously under that discipline. 

I regard myself then as a pupil in the school of 
the inner or spiritual life ; I believe that school to be 
open to all — and to be under the unceasing care and 

Rationed Mysticism 7 

guidance of the Central Source of all Good : Who is 
Light and is Love. My faith as a mystic is the trust 
that He " who opens forth the Light That doth both 
shine and give us sight to see " is Himself my continual 
Teacher, leading me by a way I know not towards all 
truth, and directing my heart and mind to the lessons 
He would have me learn. The essence of the mys- 
tical faith is the belief in an actual spiritual inter- 
course between us human beings and the Father of 
our spirits — an interchange of meaning as real as 
that which takes place between one human being and 
another. In other words, "he that cometh unto God 
must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of 
them that diligently seek Him." Almost all serious 
thinkers hold in some sense or other the first article 
of this short Creed — " God is" — but the second article, 
that " He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek 
Him" is the special and much disputed foundation of 
all personal religion ; a foundation to which the posses- 
sion in any degree of the mystical faculty implies a 
special facility of access. The reality of the reward, 
or rather in more modern phrase of the response, as- 
sured to all true seekers is that to which we who have 
been disciples in that school of the inner life of which 
I have been speaking must continually desire to bear 

I say the inner life ; for we must remember that 
our present enquiry is as to the teaching of the Light 

8 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

Within — that is of the Light which shines in the inner- 
most, central, spiritual region. In my view, as in that, 
I believe, of every mystic, all things, whether belonging 
to individual or to universal experience, are ranged 
in an order which we can scarcely help calling 
spherical, according to the degree of their nearness 
to the Centre ; the perishing or transitory things being 
outward, and those which being perpetually renewed 
may be called imperishable, being within. And all 
life is full of teaching; the outermost and most 
transient as well as the deepest and most permanent 
of events or impressions : and all Light is one, and 
the direct gift of God, whether it be directed to the 
inner or the outer regions of life. All Light is one, 
and all nature may be pervaded by it ; but all 
things cannot be seen from one point of view. The 
truths which we call spiritual can be discerned only 
from the spiritual, that is the innermost region of our 
being. It is in this region that the mystic is at home.. 
Here he feels it good to be. Here it is that the 
Divine teaching deals with all that most deeply con- 
cerns us ; and gives us, as it were, the key to mysteries 
which lie at the root of more outward matters. For 
the innermost or central principles of life must domi- 
nate the superficial and trivial. They must at any 
rate dejv/re be supreme, and their de facto supremacy 
is I suppose the condition of all perfectly harmonious 
life and character. 

Rational Mysticism 9 

" Whatsoever doth make manifest is light 1 ." But 
the figure of light, eloquent and widely applicable 
as it is, is not by itself sufficient to convey all the truth 
to which it refers. Light is too impersonal a thing 
to be an entirely satisfying type of the Father's 
manner of responding to the cry of His children. We 
find ourselves necessarily impelled in describing the 
innermost faith of His worshippers to use also the 
metaphors of the life-giving breath, of the Fountain of 
living waters, and above all of the inspeaking Voice, 
if we hope to suggest ever so faintly that experience 
of all-penetrating tenderness of which the sojourners 
in the innermost sanctuary are allowed at times to 
taste. Wherever we look, without as well as within, 
those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will find 
types and parables teaching us something of God and 
of His Providence. " The heavens declare the glory 
of God," and the thunder may represent to us His 
Voice — but these do not enter so deeply into our 
souls, — they do not convey so penetrating a conscious- 
ness of the Divine Presence, — as the still small Voice 
which we may hear in our own hearts when we are 

1 There is yet another function of light made known to us by 
modern science, to which I cannot resist a passing reference, as 
wonderfully justifying the prophetic insight of George Pox in his 
well-known teaching that " the light which shows you your sins 
is that which heals them." The power of light actually to heal 
deadly disease must, in the last few years have thrilled many a 
devout imagination with its suggestion of spiritual meaning. 

10 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

alone with Him, which speaks to each one of us in 
a language addressed to us individually, with a 
significance which almost must be in a large degree 
incommunicable. The experience of Divine Guidance 
and of answered prayer is an experience belonging 
to the innermost depth of each life ; soul-subduing 
and inwardly enlightening to the one to whom it 
comes, but, like the oil in the parable, not always to 
be shared at will. 

Yet although the particular communications re- 
ceived may be among the hidden things — a part of 
"the secret of the Lord" which "is with them that 
fear Him" — yet we cannot doubt that He who is " no 
respecter of persons" deals with others in this matter 
as He does with ourselves. We must believe that 
the Light and the Voice which are reverently held to 
typify the Father's response to our need of Him — the 
means by which mind communicates with mind and 
spirit with spirit — are an all-pervading element of 
the order under which we live. In that innermost 
region of which we are speaking personal differences 
seem to disappear. In the depths we are all akin, 
and we may indeed all be one. 

At any rate there are laws in this inward kingdom 
of heaven which it must concern us all to know, and 
which we can sometimes help one another to inter- 
pret. The question how we discern the Divine Voice 
or the Divine Light from the other voices and the 

Rational Mysticism 11 

other lights to which we may find it easier to attend 
is not an easy one to answer theoretically. In practice 
I think we all find that the power fully and clearly to 
interpret the Divine Voice is but gradually acquired, 
just as is the case with all human intercourse ; — 
while yet there is from the very dawn of consciousness 
some exchange of meaning as between a mother and 
her child. It would be hard indeed to explain the 
process by which an infant learns to receive com- 
munications from its mother ; but wonderful and 
mysterious as that process is, we cannot doubt its 
reality. And so in the life of the human spirit, there 
may never have been a time to which we can look 
back when we were not in some sense aware of the 
overshadowing Presence of Him in whom we live and 
move and have our being ; while as time goes on, 
this vague sense of a Presence prepares the way for 
an increasingly distinct and reasoned belief in the 
theory, and a growing power in the practice, of 

But as that practice loses its instinctive character, 
and is gradually matured into a conscious energy of 
the soul, and directed towards definite ends, we have 
to encounter not only distractions from without, but 
questionings from within. However blessedly our 
childhood may have been sheltered, I suppose that 
for all of us as we grow older, the sense of the 
Divine Presence is at times disturbed and confused, 
if not permanently obscured, by these questionings 

12 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

and distractions. Doubts also will arise, not only as 
to the efficacy, but even as to the Tightness of prayer. 
To bear witness from first-hand experience to the 
possibility and the blessedness of actual communion 
with God is the special office of the mystic. 

And here we come to the question what is the 
relation of the inner light of the mystic to reason 
and conscience. 

I said that I call myself a rational mystic, in the 
sense of believing that Reason confirms, or at the least 
allows, the claim of the mystic to be aware of the 
immediate presence of God. But there is another 
sense in which I must describe the mysticism I believe 
in as Rational. I mean that I believe in that type 
of mysticism which renders to Reason that which is 
Reason's, as well as to intuition that which belongs to 
intuition. I believe the position of the mystic to be, 
as has often been pointed out, for himself " unassail- 
able " ; but I also agree with those who say that 
the mystic can claim no authority for any verbal 
proposition on the strength of his own intuition. So 
far from making the claim which a recent writer in 
the Hibbert journal attributes to mystics in general, 
that "feeling can, as such, deliver ontological messages 
which are of final validity," 1 I believe that intuition 
cannot supply the forms of verbal propositions at alL 
It would seem to consist rather in the peculiar 

1 "Sources of the Mystical Revelation," by Prof. G. A. Coe. 
Hibbert Journal, Jan. 1908. 

Rational Mysticism 13 

intensity and fulness of meaning with which for some 
people the language relating to spiritual things is 
invested by the glowing quality of their own inner 
experience ; or in the flash of certainty by which a 
solution may be lighted up, to be afterwards verified 
and tested by purely intellectual processes. I think 
that the tendency of the characteristically mystical 
mind is not to occupy itself with propositions of even 
the simplest kind — still less with theological or meta- 
physical subtleties — but rather to dwell in a soul- 
satisfying contemplation on the Realities with which 
the highest Reason is also occupied, though in a 
different way. I should say that the mystical 
consciousness is immediately aware of, and is 
profoundly affected by, that to which Reason gives 
a name, and points as it were from afar off. No 
doubt the sense of assurance which specially belongs 
to the intuitive faculty (be that what it may) is apt 
to overflow into the opinions held by each individual 
mystic, and not only into opinions but into symbols 
and allegories of all kinds ; and those who have not 
learnt to analyse their own mental processes often 
fail to distinguish their inward sense of certainty from 
the possession of an intellectual warrant for positive 
statement. In point of fact the mystical sense of 
inward illumination has been found in combination 
with the most contradictory creeds ; and the confusion 
of feeling with knowledge has brought discredit on the 

14 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

name of mysticism. But the true mystic will rather 
stand aloof from controversial thought, even his own, 
and is content to submit to Reason whatever can be 
reasoned about, fixing his own gaze not on explanation 
or proof, but on the Being of Whom in virtue of this 
mysterious faculty he is so vividly aware. 

The rays of light from within and from without 
are not indeed always precisely distinguishable from 
one another. They seem to meet and blend in some 
central region of our being. It is only in proportion 
to our openness to both that we can have the humble 
yet well-founded assurance of having rightly inter- 
preted Divine Guidance. The perfect blending and 
consensus of both sources of illumination is the final 
warrant for entire conviction. Let me dwell for a 
moment on this thought of the distinction and the 
combination between the inner and outer light. 

By the outer light I mean all the abundant 
instruction of experience, history, and observation — 
reaching us partly through our own and partly through 
other minds. Such reflected or indirect light reaches 
us from all quarters, and is mostly common property, 
amenable to the judgment of reason, and concerned 
with matters of fact, with events, and with the laws of 
nature. But in the central innermost region of our 
minds there shines one pure ray of direct Light from 
the very Throne of God ; one ray which belongs to 
each one individually ; which is for that one supreme 

Rational Mysticism 15 

and apart ; the ray which shining from the heaven- 
ward side of conscience, and so enlightening and 
purifying it, must of necessity dominate the whole 
being. The light reflected from the broad fields of 
experience would be incomplete without the direct 
and supreme ray from the Source of Light ; and the 
heavenly light itself not only welcomes but demands 
the admission of reflected light from without, as a 
preservative against personal bias, and spiritual 
pride and self-deception. 

For it must not be supposed that the claim to 
inward enlightenment is a claim to infallibility. Too 
often, I know, it may degenerate, or be supposed to 
degenerate, into such presumption. But in truth the 
claim of the mystic to inward enlightenment is the 
claim to be under correction ; to be a pupil in the school 
of Divine discipline ; and the mistakes and even the 
faults which may in the innermost region require the 
correction, at once severe and tender, of that school 
are matters of far greater importance than can belong 
to any outward fault or error. In that innermost region 
of our being into which the Light from above shines 
most directly there may be flaws of terrible distorting 
power ; and to go astray here is to risk the deepest 
downfall. In the Sanctuary of God there is indeed a 
Divine chastening ; and for those who willingly submit 
to it, — but for those only, — a perpetual calm. Here is 
the joy which never shines so brightly as in tribulation ; 

16 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

not only through the quenching of lower lights, but 
because for the creature the joy of joys must needs 
be to prefer the Will of the Creator to its own — to 
achieve in its measure order at its own expense. That 
which shows us this joy is the innermost Light — the 
"Radiancy Divine" which when kindled by the gift of 
God in any human spirit must thence in turn stream 
forth for the illumination of other spirits, whether by 
words, or silently in the life. The path of the mystic 
is lighted not only by the Presence of the Father of 
Lights, but also by that of the Shining Ones who are 
His messengers. 

Although the true mystic is occupied not by words 
but by contemplation, yet even mystics must of 
course sometimes use words. The difference between 
them and other people is not so much in the content 
of the creeds they may accept, as in the emphasis and 
value of certain words on their lips. The same words 
in different minds vary of course indefinitely not only 
in the direction but in the intensity of their meaning. 
We know how to the Indian yogi the syllable " Om " 
seems to contain matter for life-long contemplation. 
I do not suppose that the word conveys much to the 
non-mystical mind, or that those to whom it means 
most are much inclined to explain it. 

To come nearer home, some of us may remember 
how Mme Guion in her autobiography complains 
that as her own inner experience rose from height to 

Rational Mysticism 17 

height, and all things were transfigured and made 
new, as she herself was changed (to use the Apostle's 
words) " from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of 
the Lord," she yet could find no new language in 
which to unfold these increasingly blissful experiences. 
With a curiously human touch, she remarks on the 
inconvenience of the fact that the very words in 
which alone she could describe her latest revelations 
were often used by people in a quite elementary stage 
of religious experience to describe phases she had 
long ago left behind. I have heard from living lips a 
very similar complaint. 

The truth is that it is difficult to speak at all — 
still more to speak at once accurately and adequately 
— of an experience which even in its most fragment- 
ary and intermittent form reveals so wonderful a 
potential transfiguration of life. In dwelling upon 
what one knows to be possible, it may well happen 
that one appears to be claiming more than will be 
recognised by others as actually belonging to one. 

Whatever allowance may have to be made for 
human imperfection and infirmity, no one I think 
can read Mme Guion's autobiography without feeling 
that for her the simplest words in which the soul's 
relation to God could be described had indeed be- 
come filled with an incommunicable radiance. And 
her history shows plainly how completely the faith of 
the true mystic may be independent of any scaffolding 

18 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

of theory. Again and again when doubts were cast 
on her orthodoxy she professed her absolute readi- 
ness to submit to the correction of the Church every 
word she had written. I do not remember that 
actual retractation was ever required of her. But 
she clearly felt that Orthodoxy was not her affair. 
She knew herself to be a devout Catholic in heart, 
and desired nothing better than to be corrected by 
the authorities she recognised And she knew with 
far more unshakeable certainty that no corrections 
and no persecutions could touch her inward sense of 
the Presence and the Love of God ; and in comparison 
of that all else was as dust in the balance. 

I believe then that the functions of the mystical 
insight and those of the Reason are so to speak com- 
plementary, not opposed ; and that the ideal state is 
one in which they are harmoniously combined. It is 
well known that such a combination is possible, though 
rare. It would not be difficult to name instances in 
which much practical efficiency and shrewdness have 
been in full exercise alongside of a deep fund of 
mystical experience, and have even perhaps acquired 
an increased keenness from the atmosphere of 
disinterested equanimity belonging to those whose 
innermost devotion is for ever fixed on that which 
is eternal 

How far this combination of mystical conscious- 
ness of the Presence of God with due and even ener- 

Rational Mysticism 19 

getic attention to the actual problems of life is within 
our reach, I dare not attempt to say. We cannot, I 
suppose, make ourselves mystics any more than we 
can make ourselves poets. We must certainly 
recognise that it is much easier, or at least more 
natural, to some than to others to live the life of faith. 
Some people may be called "naturally religious," as 
having as it were an eye for the unseen, as others 
have an ear for music, or an eye for colour. The 
mystic in this sense is one whose mind's eye is 
focussed for the innermost region ; who is at home in 
the depths. Naturally this peculiarity must affect all 
his thought ; not as changing the direction of his 
beliefs, but because of the differences in value, and in 
intensity of belief, which must be caused by so pro- 
found a difference of experience as that between the 
devout disciple and the dispassionate reasoner. It is 
impossible not to hold more firmly a belief by means 
of which one has been deeply stirred and touched 
than the same belief can be held by one who has but 
studied it calmly as through a glass or from a distance. 
The creed of the mystic, although it may consist of 
the very same words as that of the non-mystical 
thinker, will be less at the mercy of intellectual 
difliculties, and will as I believe have a richer and 
fuller quality ; but whether we shall consider this as 
an advantage or as a source of delusion depends of 
course on our theological or philosophical pre-suppo- 


20 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

sitions ; and I will not pursue the question. I prefer 
to consider how far the state of things which seems 
to me to be the ideal one — that namely in which 
inward and outward illumination blend into one and 
pervade the whole life — can be said to depend on our 
own endeavours. 

We must I think in the first place recognise that 
both intuition and reason are gifts of God and elements 
of the spiritual gravitation by which we are drawn 
to Him who is our Centre. Instead of setting up one 
against the other, we can seek in every decision and 
in every action, to steep our minds in both reason 
and faith. I believe it to be as truly a duty to 
submit every impulse to the discipline and test of 
reason, as it is to keep burning the pure flame of 
devotion to the Most High by which alone Reason 
can be raised to the level of Wisdom. We can 
cultivate the power, more or less latent, I imagine, in 
every mind, of passing at will from surface to depth 
and from depth to surface. I do not know how far 
others may be conscious of a power to sink into the 
depths of their own minds. To some people I know 
that such expressions seem unmeaning. But to 
others — of whom I am one — this power, whatever 
its right name, is as the power to flee to a City of 
Refuge. And it is as necessary a condition of clear 
spiritual vision as is the power of focussing the out- 
ward eyes to natural vision. And what in conclusion 

Rational Mysticism 21 

I wish to urge is that there are two chief means 
by which the clearness of our Inner Light — or Vision 
— may be maintained and increased. These are 
quietness and obedience. 

The connection between mysticism and quietness 
(or even Quietism) is obvious and familiar to us all. 
I am anxious to make it clear that I am not pleading 
under the name of Rational Mysticism for the culti- 
vation of ecstatic or hypnotic conditions. I do not 
believe that it is good to encourage anything 
approaching to the abnormal physical states which 
result in trances and visions. Such things may have 
their place and significance ; but they hardly deserve 
to be called rational. The mystical sense I value 
owes nothing to the darkness. It is emphatically a 
consciousness of the clear shining of spiritual light ; 
of the light of truth as to whatever is deepest and 
most permanent and far reaching in its spiritual im- 
port and ethical character ; the light by which we 
are led to prefer high and noble ideals to any mere 
self-gratification ; the light in which we see that he 
who will save his life shall lose it, and that there is 
nothing worth having in exchange for our souls. Such 
light as this is not to be gained by occult practices, 
but by single-hearted devotion to the Highest. It is 
essentially the light of day ; the same light by which 
our outer life, our daily work and thought are in their 
measure lighted up, but which is rightfully dominant 

22 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

over all lower lights when in its innermost shining 
it penetrates into that central depth which we call 
our spiritual life. If we are to have even a glimpse 
of the innermost and unspeakable joys of the spirit — 
if we are to rise above pain and sorrow and bitterness 
into the pure serenity of the heaven within — if we 
are to "know that He is God" — we must be still. 
This necessity is as much rational as mystical. No 
deep wisdom can be attained without deliberate 
thought. No clear impressions, either from above or 
from without, can be received by a mind turbid with 
excitement, and agitated by a crowd of distrac- 
tions. The stillness needed for the clear shining 
of light within is incompatible with hurry. 

This is not the quiet of inaction, or of idle 
dreaming, but the quiet of a final choice. Nothing 
sets the heart at rest like a final choice. And no 
choice can be really final which is not fixed on the 
Highest. Therefore quietness and obedience are in 
truth one. We may of course talk of obeying any- 
thing, even our whims ; but it is only the unchanging, 
the unseen and eternal things which can truly and 
permanently rule us, and give us that rest — that 
"quietness and confidence" — which is our strength. 
To be faithful to the light we have is the one certain 
way to have more. All light is from God ; and that 
which shines into the innermost region of heart, mind 
and will must necessarily radiate thence in all direc- 

Rational Mysticism 23 

tions, spreading its purifying healing power to the 
very outermost range of our atmosphere. This light 
does not run counter to the dictates of reason, of 
conscience, of common sense, propriety, or wisdom. 
It inspires, harmonizes and transfigures them all. It 
is indeed the very light of life — the light which 
lighteneth every man that cometh into the world — to 
walk in which is to walk with God. 


It seems to us, in the twentieth century, a strange 
thing that the words Free Thought and Free Thinker 
should ever have had a connotation of reproach. There 
may come a time when it will be equally surprising 
that Agnosticism should for so many seem to be 
equivalent to Atheism. But it is probably inevitable 
that words of this kind, which of necessity cover a 
great variety of shades of meaning, should, in the eyes 
of fervent believers, come to represent chiefly the 
element of opposition which they undoubtedly con- 
tain. I suppose that our native combativeness is 
such that every name chosen as a badge tends to 
become a war-cry. Our party system not only 
promotes but is the outcome of a love of sharp 
divisions, which tends, in its very eagerness, to 
approach truth by zigzag paths — like forked light- 

Now, I am far from wishing to object altogether 
to this method of striking out truth, but there is a 

Quakerism cmd Free Thought 25 

region in which it ceases to be appropriate. Contro- 
versy is nowhere hotter than in the surroundings and 
accessories of faith, but in the region of faith itself I 
hold it to be out of place — not only in the sense of un- 
fitness, but of actual incompatibility. "A solemn state 
of mind," says William James, "is never crude or 
simple ; it seems to contain a certain measure of its 
own opposite in solution. A solemn joy preserves 
a certain bitterness in its sweetness, and a solemn 
sorrow is one to which we intimately consent." 1 It 
is in this region of solemnity, of comprehensive 
recognition of good and evil, that we dwell when we 
enter into the deep things of faith. That spiritual 
insight which we call faith — a power closely akin to 
hope and love — must be deep enough to meet reason 
at its source. It does not oppose — it holds in solution 
opposing thoughts. It has nothing to fear from the 
activity of the critical and intellectual faculties, for 
its very life is in the Light. 

The mystical attitude towards religious questions 
(which is the root of Quakerism) is in its ideal one of 
solemnity in this sense. It is the attitude of those 
who have penetrated to a depth of inward experience 
at which contradiction and controversy are left be- 
hind. Friends recognise no authority to decide 
religious questions as officially belonging to any 
Society; they content themselves with looking for 
1 Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 48. 

26 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

" right guidance from above," in the conviction that 
it is assured to all who honestly seek for it. In other 
words, they regard religious belief as the outcome of 
religious experience rather than as a body of doctrine 
entrusted to the Church or to be learnt from Scrip- 
ture ; they look for, and find, such solution of 
problems as they need in the shining of light within, 
not in explanations from without. They do, it is true, 
believe that this Divine guidance is more surely 
recognised and interpreted by the united judgment 
of fellow disciples than it can be by any individual 
judgment, and therefore have always encouraged 
individuals to bring forward matters of common 
concern in which they have felt individually called to 
action, for the united consideration of the periodical 
meetings held for this and other purposes; but 
though the decisions of these meetings being placed 
on record have resulted in a sort of code of regulations 
for the good order of the Society, yet this code itself 
is subject to periodical revision, and is in no way 
binding on the individual conscience. The bond of 
union amongst Friends lies in the community not of 
opinions but of discipleship ; it is emphatically within 
— at the quiet heart of things — not where the strife 
of tongues is heard. 

The result is, or ought to be, an habitual sense of 
absolute freedom in the search for truth ; freedom 
being, as I suppose we shall all agree, not lawlessness, 

Quakerism and Free Thought 27 

but the absence of external restraint — a state of 
being controlled only from within — which, in our view, 
includes the idea of control from above. The well- 
known disuse by Friends of creeds and formularies 
springs from this habit of dependence on "right 
guidance" alone as all sufficient. I suppose we are 
all familiar with the way in which, during the last 
century, Friends have faltered in their allegiance to 
this principle, and have sought, in various ways and 
on various occasions, to supply by definite declarations 
of faith the supposed lack of " sound doctrine," or, at 
any rate, of security for the soundness of doctrine. 
Had this attempt been successful, we should, I believe, 
have lost the very key of our position as witnesses 
to the compatibility of the deepest faith with the 
utmost freedom of thought. Happily, no actual 
change has been made in this direction, and we still 
enjoy as a Society our ancient immunity from 
prescribed standards of orthodoxy. 

I believe this to be a privilege as valuable to faith 
as to reason, if, indeed, we can thus separate the two 
powers by which we recognise the Central Light. In 
their outflowing from that centre no doubt they become 
distinct, but to myself it appears that they are at 
bottom and essentially one, constituting in their one- 
ness the faculty of spiritual vision. 

However this may be, it is obvious that in these 
days the progress of thought has been such as to 

28 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

cause severe disturbance to any faith which is 
wedded to words. The special mission of Friends 
seems to be to exemplify the truth that faith is not 
dependent on words, but is, rather, the source of all 
their deepest value. We must not, I believe, shrink 
from recognising the fact that there is much in our 
religious attitude which is common to all Free- 
thinkers. Quakerism has always commanded an un- 
usual degree of respect from those rebels against the 
Church whose revolt has proceeded from a real zeal 
for truth and honesty. We know Voltaire's appre- 
ciation of the Quaker position, and this has been 
re-echoed in our own time by more than one Agnostic 
of the Voltairean type. They recognise the soundness 
of the position implied in the words, " Friends of the 
Truth" ; and we may thankfully believe that they 
recognise also a degree of faithfulness to that 
profession in the actual inheritors of the title. 

The disuse not only of creeds and formularies 
but of the clerical office and of sacraments is a 
further extension of the ground common to Friends 
and Freethinkers. The common ground is, in fact, 
so extensive that some may feel that what needs to 
be emphasized is the underlying distinction. There 
have been those who have considered it an almost 
unintelligible paradox that Quakers should be 
reckoned as Christians at all ; assuming, as they do, 
that Christianity, or a "state of grace," depends 

Quakerism and Free Thought 29 

upon the use of ordinances. To have afforded 
irresistible proof to the contrary is no small service 
to the cause of piety. 

Where, then, lies the fundamental distinction 
between the typical Quaker and the typical Free- 
thinker ? Historically, of course, it is familiar truth 
that the early Friends were Christians of an intense 
type. George Fox's career as a preacher may be 
traced to his experience that, when none of the 
priests could " speak to his condition," a voice spoke 
to him in the memorable words, " There is one, even 
Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition " ; and 
no reader of his Journal or Epistles could doubt his 
ardent devotion to Christ as the Word, the Lamb, 
the Light of the world. 

But this, it may be said, though true as a matter of 
fact of the early Friends, is not necessarily true of 
all who bear their name ; especially is it uncertain as 
to hereditary Friends under the Quaker system of 
birthright membership, by which the children of 
Friends inherit full membership in the Society with- 
out any preliminary rite or declaration of faith. 
Such a system obviously makes it possible for many 
to be through life Friends in name only, without any 
real conviction of the truth of our fundamental 
principle. I have not observed that infant baptism, 
or even confirmation, afford any guarantee against 
a similarly nominal membership in other religious 
bodies. But, apart from this question of boundaries, 

30 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

what, it may be asked, is the conviction or the 
experience which constitutes the essence of Quaker- 
ism? What do we mean by "true convincement"? 
What is Quakerism at its best and purest? 

When George Fox and his companions called 
themselves "Friends of the Truth," we must, I think, 
recognise that they had in mind the words, "I am 
the way, the truth, and the life " ; and " Ye are my 
friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." By 
the Truth they meant not merely abstract truth, but 
Him whom they regarded as the Light of the world. 
To obey the Light meant for them the same thing as 
to follow the Lamb. From that time onwards, this 
has been the core of Quakerism — not only in theory 
but in fact. Thought has been, theoretically at 
least, free, but allegiance to Christ has been un- 
wavering; and sincerity has, in fact, winnowed out 
from the counsels of the Society, and even from the 
list of members, many — probably most — of those who 
have found themselves unable to maintain this 
allegiance. There would, indeed, be no place for 
non-Christians in the inner circle of those who 
conduct the affairs of the Society, the central object 
and purpose of its existence being, briefly, obedience to 
that teaching of which the Sermon on the Mount gives 
the most typical instance on record. The heart and 
core of Quakerism, because that of Christianity itself, 
is the following of Jesus Christ, and the worship in 
His Name of the Father whom He reveals. 

Quakerism and Free Thought 31 

How is this discipleship related to freedom of 
thought ? 

Discipleship, of course, implies some fixed con- 
victions — at the very lowest, the conviction that the 
Master is trustworthy ; but fixed convictions are in 
no way incompatible with — perhaps rather conducive 
to — freedom of thought. (No one, for instance, 
supposes it essential to the freedom of arithmetical 
thought to be able to regard two and two as five.) 
The freest thought is not necessarily that which goes 
farthest afield, but that which is least warped by bias 
and prejudice, and least hampered by fear of conse- 
quences, — amongst which consequences the disap- 
proval of the Society to which we may belong is one 
of the most potent. A great deal of religious teaching 
certainly has a warping effect ; so, I believe, has 
a great deal of teaching of the opposite kind. A 
steady confidence in Divine guidance, on the other 
hand, tends, I believe, to open and fearless reverence. 
Every Society must have some fixed convictions as 
its principles of united action, and the fundamental 
principle of our Society is certainly discipleship — 
obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ. But what 
is that teaching ? 

This is a question which the Society does not 
undertake to answer for individuals, though its very 
existence as a Society is a perpetual witness to the 
fact and the importance of discipleship. I regard 

32 Thoughts on the Central Radfcmce 

Quakerism as admitting of the widest possible range 
of thought which can co-exist with obedience to such 
teaching as the individual himself recognises as 
derived from Christ ; and this, of course, implies the 
free exercise of the reason in ascertaining what that 
teaching actually is. 

Now we come here upon the very origin and 
essence of the peculiarity of Quakerism as compared 
with other forms of Christianity, and of the pecu- 
liarity of what we may call the mystical type of 
Quakerism as compared with the more modern and 
less exclusive development which seems to be rapidly 
assimilating the Society to the outer world, both 
as to its usages and customs, and as to its standards 
of orthodoxy. The distinguishing peculiarity of 
Quakerism undoubtedly lies in its mystical character. 
By this much-abused word, mystical, I mean the view 
of life which springs from a consciousness of illumi- 
nation from within. It is a temper of mind, as we all 
know, which may be found in combination with every 
variety of religious, perhaps even of non-religious, 
belief. Inward illumination is certainly not depen- 
dent upon any kind of orthodoxy. But the tendency, 
or the faculty, as it existed in the founders of our 
Society, was in point of fact combined with a belief 
in Christian doctrines such as made it inevitable that 
they should identify the Light sinning in their own 
hearts with that glory which they saw "in the face of 

Qimkerism and Free Thought 33 

Jesus Christ." Quakerism is the recognition of this 
identity of the Light within with the " Light of the 
World " — it is a fusion of the historical and mystical 

In these days we have all had to encounter a 
vigorous and sometimes rough handling of what is 
called "historical Christianity." The Bible and all 
its contents are being dealt with in a way which is 
certainly calculated to shake whatever can be shaken, 
and it would be idle to deny that this process has 
laid bare an unsuspected degree of uncertainty as to 
the exact words uttered by Jesus of Nazareth. It is 
no longer possible to rely upon Scriptural records 
alone as giving us any complete and certain knowledge 
of His teaching. And even were there no uncertainty 
as to the very words used by Him, the inherent 
ambiguity of all language must have been brought 
vividly home to most of us by the discussions, so 
freely published in the last half-century, as to the 
real meaning of passages the mere letter of which is 
the least doubtful. 

My own belief is that the Bible must gain by 
being dealt with in the same manner as all other 
books. The treasures of its inspiration, the incom- 
parable beauty and depth of its spiritual teaching, 
and the profound importance of its history must 
always secure for it the reverence alike of the learned 
and the simple ; and, owing to it, as we do, the 

s. 3 

34 Thoughts mi the, Central Radiance 

strongest and purest influence that can be exercised 
by written words on the human mind, there is no fear 
of its losing its hold on our affections through ceasing 
to be the object of an unreasoning idolatry. 

But, as a result of the searching processes of 
historical criticism, all of us, even the least learned, 
are being thrown back on one or other of the two 
main sources of that practical certainty, that un- 
hesitating conviction, which we all instinctively crave 
in regard to our deepest concern for time and for 
eternity. We need a living Voice, if only to interpret 
for us that written Word which we may regard as 
containing the standard of right belief on the greatest 
of all questions. Some seek for this living inter- 
pretation at the hands of the Church as represented 
by its ordained ministers. Others seek and find it in 
their "free Teacher," the "Christ within," to whom 
our Quaker predecessors looked with a confidence 
they could feel in no human teachers, whatever their 
official position. The priest must, of necessity, stand 
without us. The Voice to which we as Friends are 
pledged to listen is the "inspeaMng voice" of the 
One who alone "can speak to our condition." 

And again we must ask what is the teaching of 
our Inward Guide and Monitor ? What are the sub- 
jects on which we may reasonably claim that this 
Teacher leaves us in no uncertainty ? And again we 
must reply, in regard to the inner teaching of the 

Quakerism and Free Thought 35 

Spirit, as we did in regard to the outer teaching of 
Scripture, that its boundaries are nowhere precisely 
laid down — that what it promises us is not a complete 
theology but an unfailing guardianship. The Voice 
which we are entitled to call the voice of our " free 
Teacher" calls us ever upwards. It assures us per- 
petually of the Father's love ; it] reproves as well as 
encourages ; it is at one with all the unshaken truth 
conveyed in the Gospel story, and written on the 
" fleshly tables of the hearts" of " a great multitude 
whom no man can number" ; it tells of One Who 
wipes all tears from our eyes, and it leads us "with joy 
to draw water out of the wells of salvation." 

But this in-speaking Voice, though easily under- 
stood by the obedient and child-like heart, is not 
always rightly interpreted, even in its simplest instruc- 
tions. The conscience to which this Voice speaks — 
through which the inner Light shines — is itself liable 
to error and perversion, and may thus distort the mes- 
sage from above, or may fail to distinguish it from 
other promptings. Thus the claim to be under the 
instruction of the living and free Teacher is by no 
means a claim to infallibility. It is much more 
nearly a claim to be under correction, for, as George 
Fox teaches, the same Light which shows us our 
faults is the Light which heals. 

The very fact that a consciousness of illumination 
from within is found in combination with every 


36 Thoughts on the Central Radicvnce 

variety of theological opinion shows that it cannot 
be appealed to for the decision of abstract and 
speculative questions. Such doctrines, for example, 
as those relating to the nature and origin of sin, the 
meaning of conversion, justification, grace, ordi- 
nances, the Atonement, the sense in which we may 
or ought to regard Jesus Christ as divine, the mean- 
ing of resurrection, the authority of the Church, — 
these and many other deep and abstruse matters on 
which it has been sought to obtain unanimity by 
creeds and declarations of faith lie outside that inner- 
most region in which alone can be entire unity. On 
these doctrinal questions, divergence, being obviously 
inevitable, must, so far as it is in good faith, be 
innocent. The Light within is spiritual, not merely 
intellectual But, as its radiance is shed upon the 
comparatively outward region of intellectual diver- 
gence, it does, no doubt, lead each obedient spirit 
nearer and nearer to such truth as makes for edifica- 
tion ; and obedience to truth after truth as it comes 
in sight is, no doubt, the path which leads to the 
highest and clearest understanding of spiritual 
realities. It leads also, I believe, to the utmost 
readiness to accept correction in the region of 
thought ; and to a steadfast resolve not to be bound, 
or to attempt to bind others, to verbal propositions 
on speculative subjects. 

It is, indeed, a solemn and an awful thought that 

Quakerism and Free Thought 37 

as the outward teaching of our Master becomes less 
and less precisely outlined, his disciples are more 
and more thrown back upon the thought of Him 
as the Light — the Word of God— the brightness of 
the Father's glory — the "Eadiancy Divine" shining 
into our hearts and penetrating our lives. " If I go 
not away the Comforter will not come unto you." 
That which is seen is temporal ; that which is unseen 
is eternal. 

Perhaps one of the most perplexing thoughts 
to many devout minds in these days is the un- 
deniable and often remarkable goodness of many 
unbelievers. We are learning more and more to 
recognize how far the difference between good and 
bad is from coinciding with the difference between 
religious and non-religious people. This is not to 
say that religion has no influence on ethics, but that 
ethics rests on a foundation broader than any par- 
ticular form of religious belief. Whether the foun- 
dation of ethics is other than, or broader and deeper 
than, that of religion itself is a question which must 
wait till the meaning of religion is more clearly 
defined and agreed on than I believe it to be at 
present. Meanwhile there are those who go so far 
as to think that all degrees of moral excellence 
being, apparently, attainable without religious belief, 
that belief is shown to be superfluous, and if super- 
fluous, then not fundamentally true. There is, I 

38 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

think, some real weight in these considerations, 
although they seem to me to apply only to particular 
tenets, not to religion itself They are, however, at 
the lowest, of importance in counteracting the natural 
tendency of human beings, especially of the more 
fervent spirits, to think that their own pattern is the 
only right one. 

But when we look closely into the difference 
between Agnostics of the best type and those who, 
in sincerity, profess themselves disciples of Jesus 
Christ, we cannot help being aware of a difference, 
hard to define, but all-pervading. While we must 
believe (as William Penn so nobly sets forth in 
No Cross No Crown), that all, even the heathen, who 
are faithful to the light they have are through 
obedience building on the Bock, we cannot but be 
aware that there are some who, in so following 
Christ as to be made one with Him, have found the 
pearl of great price for which all else is well lost. 
These dwell in a region of experience which the 
others ignore. For them all experience — in a 
supreme sense all painful experience, the experience 
of the Cross — is illuminated by the joy of obedience, 
by the fellowship of His sufferings. Such an expe- 
rience of inward illumination, bringing with it that 
"rejoicing in tribulation" which convinces that 
" all things " do indeed " work together for good to 
them that love God," cannot but be recognized in 

Quakerism and Free Thought 39 

the lives of those who yield themselves wholly to it. 
To have — or, at least, earnestly to seek — this expe- 
rience of a "life hid with Christ in God" is the real 
mark of "a Friend of the Truth" in the widest and 
deepest sense of those words. Obviously it must 
colour the whole character, and must affect the whole 
direction of energy. But it is an experience belong- 
ing to the innermost region, and one of which those 
in whom it is the most real are, perhaps, the least 
likely to speak very freely. 

To be inwardly conscious of an upspringing foun- 
tain of life and light can certainly not cramp or 
hinder thought, but it may well lessen its eagerness ; 
for this consciousness lays to rest the craving for a 
solution of the " riddle of existence," and quenches 
the thirst of the soul by which so much of the rest- 
lessness of enquiry is prompted. A great trust and 
a great peace naturally promote openness to light 
from all quarters, but will neither stimulate nor 
check speculative thought. I think, therefore, that 
Quakerism and Free Thought are not really opposed, 
but rather that they occupy different provinces. 
Quakerism is essentially inward — a pressing towards 
the centre. When we speak of the Light Within, 
we mean the Light which shines in the innermost 
and central region of our being — the same Light 
which shines in the innermost and central region of 
all being — the Light of the Spirit. When we speak 

40 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

of free thought, we mean that unfettered exercise of 
the discursive reason which has for its province all 
things, material or immaterial, which can be known 
to the human mind — a kind of necessarily outgoing 
or radiating activity, the centrifugal as compared 
with the centripetal force of the mind. It is obvious 
that Truth cannot contradict itself. I believe the 
danger of Free Thought to be, not that of contradict- 
ing any doctrine really worth holding, but rather 
that of diverting attention from "the one thing 
needful" to a multitude of less important objects. 
It wars, not against truth, but against concentration 
of mind. It is essential to the preservation of 
sanity and the correction of prejudice, but it cannot, 
without injury to the whole being, be allowed to take 
the place of contemplation and of adoration. 


Such an expression as " Quaker Tradition " has a 
certain flavour of paradox. For the essential peculi- 
arity of Quakerism is assuredly its religious inward- 
ness— in other words, its mystical attitude. And it is 
obvious that there can be no such thing as a school 
of mysticism ; the essential characteristic of the 
mystic being dependence on an illumination from 
within, which must from its very nature be regarded 
as of paramount authority for the mystic himself, and 
which thus involves a measure of independence of 
outward teaching. But while mysticism itself cannot 
be taught, it is quite possible to teach respect for it. 
If, on the one hand, the habit of reliance on the Light 
within tends to produce independence of dogmatic 
teaching, it must be remembered on the other hand 
that the existence and authority of that Light is 
itself a dogma, which can be taught like any other 
doctrine ; and it has in fact been handed down from 
generation to generation of hereditary Friends, and 
impressed upon them by every kind of traditional 

42 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

practice, even to the extent of producing in some 
minds a vehement reaction. 

For to believe that there is an Inner Light is one 
thing ; to see it with the eyes of one's own mind is quite 
another thing. All hereditary Friends have been 
taught to believe in it, but all Friends are not born 
mystics ; and to those whose knowledge of inward 
Light is mainly second-hand, and therefore very im- 
perfect, the system which has been built on faith in it 
must needs be unsatisfying, and may in certain cases 
become acutely oppressive ; while the peculiarly high 
standard of truthfulness which has been so diligently 
maintained in the Society (and which may, I believe, 
be largely traced to this very doctrine) makes those 
hereditary members who have not by nature the gift 
or faculty of mystical insight feel a peculiar uneasiness 
in the practice of methods of worship and traditional 
expressions based upon that faculty. Within the last 
century there has been a very marked recoil in the 
Society at large from what was felt to be too exclusive 
a reliance on the doctrine of the Inner Light. There 
are, however, at the present time indications of a 
tendency, especially among the young, to revert to 
the ancient and more specially Quaker view. It 
seems, therefore, very desirable that we should de- 
liberately consider what is the true meaning and 
value of the real Quaker tradition in this matter ; 
and how far we should aim at maintaining it. 

The Quaker Tradition 43 

There can, I think, be no doubt that the mystical 
view of things, like the poetic view, is the outcome of 
a certain idiosyncrasy. There are born mystics, and 
there are people to whom all mystical language is un- 
meaning, and on whose lips the very name of mysticism 
is a term of reproach. The word of course implies 
the existence of a secret ; but it must not be forgotten 
that there are secrets of two kinds — artificial and 
natural, voluntary and involuntary. A mystery may 
be guarded by restrictions deliberately imposed and 
maintained with the object of preserving a certain 
superiority and claim on the reverence of outsiders, 
which might vanish if the secret were disclosed. But 
the secret of Quaker mysticism is an open secret. If 
it is hidden from some eyes, it is by their own lack of 
vision, not by any intentional reticence. The doctrine 
of the Light within — the Light of Christ in the heart — 
was preached by Friends in the beginning with all 
the fervour and freedom of the Gospel with which 
they felt it to be identical. The desire of their hearts 
was that all eyes might be opened to see it ; the 
labour of their lives was to spread the knowledge of 
the Light of the World, whose power and kingdom 
was within, and whose grace was universal ; the 
Light which, while it convinced of sin, also healed 
sinners ; which was in us and in all men "the hope of 
glory." They sought, in George Fox's language, to 
"turn men to their free Teacher, Jesus Christ." 

44 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

And the response they met with proved that this 
teaching, though to some it might be unmeaning, yet 
was deep and simple enough to commend itself to a 
great multitude, not of the educated specially, but of 
the poor and the struggling and the sorrowful It 
must be remembered that in the teaching of the early 
Friends the Light was never so presented as to be 
taken for merely intellectual light, or for a mere 
abstract idea of light "The Lamb was the Light 
thereof",; the "light, life, spirit, and grace of Christ" 
was set forth with a wealth of expression always 
pointing to the Crucified One as the very Fountain of 
light and life. It was in His Name that they gathered 
the " glorious meetings" of which their records are 
full. Their strength was in their recognition of Him 
as the Light shining in every heart. 

Here is the mystery still ; the open secret which 
to some seems foolishness, to others a stumbling- 
block. Of this central source of our faith I cannot 
at this time say more. What I wish to consider is 
the manner in which, from generation to generation, 
the tradition has been handed down of our freedom 
of access to this inward and Divine teaching, and of 
the conditions needed for its discernment. Friends 
have still, I believe, a special responsibility as re- 
gards Divine guidance, and the quietness and inward- 
ness which naturally accompany and encourage belief 
in it. 

The Quaker Tradition 45 

It has often been pointed out that the difference 
between the law and the Gospel is the difference 
between an external restraint and an internal motive. 
The superior power and beauty of a virtue arising 
from obedience to inward promptings as compared 
with that which results from the restraint of law is 
a truism too familiar to be insisted on. That "the 
Kingdom of Heaven is within us" is the very key- 
note of our Master's teaching. But, like all indis- 
pensable metaphors, the words " within " and " with- 
out " are capable of many applications, and therefore 
liable to many misinterpretations. As regards the 
phrase so long valued above all others by Friends, 
and which to the outer world has been the very glory 
of their profession — " the Light within " or " the Inner 
Light " — there has, I think, been even amongst here- 
ditary Friends themselves some serious misunder- 
standing. There has been a tendency to interpret 
"within" as implying a limitation rather than as 
assigning a central position. Too often it seems to 
be understood as meaning such light as is contained 
within "my" or "thy" personal experience, rather 
than as the innermost and Central Light, whether of 
the individual or of all Life. 

In short, the teaching of inwardness seems to 
require, to make it either safe or adequate, a recog- 
nition, whether express or implicit, of the concentric 
structure, not only of human beings but of humanity 

46 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

and consciousness. The tendency to regard all ex- 
perience as in various degrees central or peripheral, 
as radiating from or converging towards a centre, is 
I suppose, one of the chief characteristics of the born 
mystic. It is, at any rate, the key to such mystical 
teaching as that of the early Friends ; and it appears 
to me to be the key to most of the problems by which 
we are encountered in our endeavour to read the 
experience of life in the light of faith. For faith 
itself is the faculty by which we are enabled to judge 
not by "the appearance" but by the underlying 
reality. By " innermost" we mean that which is from 
every point of view the deepest or (which is the same 
thing) the highest or central truth — the truth which 
is to " the appearance" as the centre is to the surface 
of a globe. While we look only at the surface of 
other lives they often bear the appearance of un- 
meaning or cruel tragedies ; those very lives which 
seen from within may be full of the peace of heartfelt 
consent, converting tragedy into martyrdom, while 
tribulation becomes "all joy" in the light of the 
central glory. Even short of this spiritual experience 
(not so rare as it may appear to those who see only 
the surface) there will always be a difference between 
the summary impressions of hasty observers and 
actual experience as revealed to the penetrative 
sympathy of faith ; a difference which, when it has 
been a few times brought home to us by inquiry or 

The Quaker Tradition 47 

by some unsought and unexpected self-revelation, 
will make us ever afterwards distrustful of the rash- 
ness of judgments merely from without. 

This difference between the outer and inner life is 
constantly impressed upon those brought up, as 
Friends have been, in the continual recognition of the 
authority of the " inward monitor," accompanied by 
the disuse of all outward rites and forms of devotion, 
the place of which amongst us is filled by silence. 
To watch "in the stillness" for the inspeaking Voice, 
to wait and to feel for the promptings of the Spirit 
of truth in one's own heart, in every action to look 
with confidence for guidance from above — these and 
many such familiar admonitions are the ABC of a 
real Quaker education. 

That the Voice of the Divine Teacher is to be 
heard "within," and that obedience to this inward 
teaching is all-sufficient, is no doubt as much a doctrine 
as any clause in the creeds ; but it is a doctrine so 
all-embracing as to have a tendency to supersede 
creeds — not only to discourage their use as formu- 
laries, but actually to cause many parents to abstain 
from inculcating their contents upon children's minds. 
I imagine that, in point of fact, this one article of 
belief — tha,t a willing obedience to Divine teaching is 
the one path of salvation — has often left but little 
room for anything that could be called doctrinal 
teaching in the families of Friends. I speak with 

48 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

some diffidence on this point, not having myself been 
brought up in the Society, and being well aware that 
there have been great changes of feeling and con- 
viction with regard to the need of " definite teaching." 
But that in former times Friends did lay much 
greater stress upon the duty of looking for "right 
guidance" in comparison with that of holding "sound 
doctrine" than was commonly the case in other 
religious societies cannot, I think, be doubted. It 
has often been made a reproach to Quakerism. To 
my own mind it appears to be one of the greatest 
claims the Quaker tradition has upon our respect and 

For indeed there is nothing in this article of belief 
to hinder soundness of doctrine ; it hinders only the 
attempt to fix it in forms of words and to stamp these 
with finality and necessity. Friends certainly can 
never believe that all who do not "keep whole and 
undefiled the Catholic faith," as defined in the Athan- 
asian Creed, "will perish everlastingly." But this 
does not involve the denial of a single article of that 
or any other creed. "Words," from which George 
Fox sometimes felt it his place to " famish the people," 
are necessarily outward, and therefore of compara- 
tively little importance. But the habit of inward 
obedience, which can be taught both by words and by 
example, is the very life of our spirits ; and inward 
obedience may call upon us to accept the correction 

The Quaker Tradition 49 

of our religious phraseology. In these days of shak- 
ing of all that can be shaken those may be thankful 
whose faith is not bound to any definite form of words. 
There is an obvious danger in laying stress on 
that meaning of the word "within" which implies 
limitation, so that the idea of a light shining only 
within the four walls of our own minds is substituted 
for the great truth that Light is in its very nature a 
radiating energy ; that the " radiancy Divine" springs 
from the very Centre of Life and must ever stream 
forth in all directions ; that it is hindered only by 
the unresponsiveness of our mysteriously darkened 
minds ; and that its blessed office is not only to 
reveal but to heal our sins and infirmities. Too often 
people have allowed themselves to think of "the 
Light within" as an exclusive possession of each 
individual, and have so misunderstood the verbal 
teaching of obedience to it as to think they were 
called on to find instruction in a solitary introspec- 
tiveness which but too easily becomes morbid — the 
natural result of studying one's own feelings instead 
of looking upwards (through the skylight of conscience) 
to the very Fountain of pure and passionless illumi- 
nation — the Light which lighteth every man — which 
being common to all cannot exalt one above another 
or lead to dissension or self-sufficiency. This inner- 
most Light is in its very nature dominant. The attempt 
to increase by it exclusion of that which is without 

8. 4 

50 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

is suicidal. Dearly as I prize the Quaker tradition 
of inwardness, I cannot wonder or be sorry that many 
a one has broken away from so dangerous a perversion 
of it. Not by the exclusion of lesser lights but by 
obedience to the one Supreme Light do we increase 
the measure of inward illumination. 

If we are to obey this Supreme Light, we must of 
course learn to recognize it ; and in order to do so 
we must be quiet True inward quietness is not that 
which may be produced by shutting out all outward 
causes of distraction — a process which when carried 
out too severely may but intensify the inward ferment 
of the mind, especially in the young. It is rather 
a state of stable equilibrium ; resulting from the 
resolute seeking first of that which is really primary. 
It is not vacancy, but stability ; the steadfastness of 
a single purpose. Such a purpose diffuses a certain 
repose over the whole mind, and even over outward 
surroundings, so that frivolous and trivial distractions 
fall away from before it. An outward calm may, 
however, favour the growth of such an inward 
purpose ; the two things may act and re-act on one 

Inwardness and true quietness indeed appear to 
be but two aspects of the same thing — of a truly 
" centred" life. In the innermost region of life there 
is perpetual calm. Perturbations and excitements 
belong to the comparatively superficial part of our 

The Qudlter Tradition 51 

nature. In cleaving to the Centre we cannot but be 
still ; to be inwardly still is to be aware of the Centre. 
This may be mystical language, unfamiliar to those 
to whom it has not occurred that all parts of our 
nature are not on one level, and do not respond to 
the same plane in our environment ; but it is also the 
language of hard common-sense. The Centre means 
whatever is most unchangeable, most real, most truly 
important. To attach ourselves by preference to 
whatever is least liable to change and failure is 
obviously the course demanded even by mere pru- 
dence. And success in any great aim requires, as 
a matter of course, gravity and the calmness of 

The quietness of self-control is often the first 
step towards spiritual vision. It is perhaps the only 
step in that direction to which we can point one 
another. " Stand still in the Light," " Stand still and 
see the Salvation of God." Notwithstanding all 
possible dangers from perversion or exaggeration in 
the teaching of quietness, the need for it lies too 
deep in human nature to be forgotten while the 
search after Truth and the God of Truth holds its 
place among us. 

Friends in former times have no doubt erred — a 
very noble error — in too sternly refusing to give any 
place to the seductive delights of the eye and the ear ; 
and in too rigidly excluding from their own and their 


52 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

children's lives much that was innocent and beautiful. 
Nature and common-sense have been too strong for 
the policy of exclusion, and the danger now seems to 
be that in the reaction from it we may forget the 
supreme and unchanging necessity of a right sub- 
ordination. So great and overwhelming has been the 
rush of increasing interest and excitement in the 
outer life of action, of discovery, of enjoyment and 
amusement, that even our religion is in danger of 
becoming an outward thing. Philanthropy is good, 
and missionary zeal is good; active endeavours to 
"extend the Redeemer's Kingdom" are good; but 
resolute obedience to the Kingdom of God within 
us must come first both in order of time and in 
order of importance. It is the central root of 
obedience alone which can give to outward activity 
any value or beauty. This is the ancient Quaker 
principle, and unless we hold firmly to it both in 
thought and in action our Society will assuredly 
become as salt that has lost its savour. 

To make clear the paramount importance and 
value of that which is central without disparagement 
of that which is outward is to do the greatest possible 
service to religion. If the Society of Friends can 
open wide its doors, not so much to new members as 
to new ideas and new sources of knowledge, without 
losing its ancient and deep hold on eternal truth ; if 
it can maintain that inward quietness which belongs 

The Quaker Tradition 53 

inevitably to immediate access to the Divine Presence, 
without losing its kinship with all that is human, 
it may fill a unique place in the present struggle of 

No doubt one result of the opening of doors and 
throwing down of hedges must be the gradual disap- 
pearance of the old and well-loved type of exclusive 
Quakerism, with its picturesque quaintness, and 
perhaps even something of its "holy atmosphere" of 
awe and reverence. But we shall hardly stay to sigh 
over this if we may but watch the dawn of a yet 
truer and more lasting, because more free, more open 
and trustful type of reverent holiness ; if, while 
"speech, behaviour, and apparel" change like all out- 
ward things, the habit of looking for and obeying 
Divine guidance becomes more and more firmly 
established. How far this habit can be maintained, 
together with unrestricted intercourse with those 
to whom the very words "Divine guidance" mean 
nothing, it is hard to guess. In this as in so many 
matters we must choose our path without waiting till 
we can foresee whither it will lead us. And assuredly 
we can cleave to the imperishable truth of the 
Quaker tradition without being bound by all the 
passing forms it has developed. 

Perhaps the chief help towards fidelity to the 
essence of our tradition lies in our manner of worship. 
This being based upon silence — freed from rites and 

54 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

ceremonies and from clerical direction, repeated in 
the daily devotions of the family, and striking the 
keynote of private and individual seasons of retire- 
ment — has a powerful tendency to achieve and to 
diffuse the central calm of entire dependence on God, 
Amongst those who have been brought up in the 
resultant atmosphere there is certainly observable a 
tendency in all things, even in the minutest actions 
of daily life, to wait and to watch for guidance from 
above. To one who like myself has come into the 
Society in mature life, one of the most striking facts 
one meets with in doing so is the readiness of Friends 
to make way for any intimation of a prompting from 
within. In cases in which elsewhere some proposed 
course of action would be met by free criticism and 
by a discussion of reasons for and against it, the 
newcomer is perhaps startled to find that the effect on 
Friends is that of a sudden hush — an instinctive pause, 
in which the proposal seems to sink out of sight for 
a while, and some silent process of weighing and 
waiting takes the place of spoken comment. The final 
comment, when it does come, has often a ripeness 
and a wisdom which fully justify the method of 
concentration and upward expectancy by which it 
has been arrived at. Especially if any kind of religious 
service be in question, there is something surprising, 
as well as indescribably comforting, in the readiness of 
Friends to fall in with and promote the minutest 

The Quaker Tradition 55 

fulfilment of the individual vision. And even in all 
the trivial arrangements of everyday life this atmo- 
sphere of reverent helpfulness seems to pervade the 
typical Quaker household. One finds often amongst 
Friends a peculiar combination of flexibility and 
orderliness, as well as a gentle reserve, which have 
their roots in the characteristic tradition of trust in 
Divine guidance. The "inward monitor" is listened 
to even in the minutest details of ordinary conduct. 

Of course there is a shadow side to this beautiful 
habit of trust. The traditional teaching of the duty 
of looking for " right guidance" has no doubt in some 
cases become oppressive and overstrained. Young 
people have grown up in an atmosphere of awe 
which tended to produce a reaction and a longing 
for something more outward and tangible in their 
devotions, and in some cases the habitual watch for 
guidance has degenerated into superstition. But in 
spite of all dangers there is in it a virtue which we 
cannot afford to lose. 

We need, I think, mainly two things in order to 
preserve this virtue of immediate dependence on 
Divine teaching from the perversions to which 
experience has shown it to be liable. In the first 
place, we need to recognize that the Light within is 
(as I have tried to point out) central, unbounded, 
radiating — that it burns best with open doors — that 
while all light is one, that which shines from spirit to 

56 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

spirit is the innermost glory of unchangeable Truth, 
making manifest the path of holiness, of pureness, of 
eternal life. And, secondly, we need to remember 
that the guidance for which we can always and 
reasonably look directs us not to the fulfilment of 
our own desires but to the satisfaction of our spirit's 
supreme hope. The One Guide leads to the One 
Home ; often through failures and mistakes, but 
always upward and heavenward. The work of the 
"inward monitor" is to correct, not to explain; so 
that to dwell under His teaching is to become 
increasingly humble and contrite ; wise with the 
wisdom of simplicity ; not necessarily to acquire 
any other knowledge than the knowledge, so far as it 
concerns ourselves, of His Will. Can we have a 
higher aim than so to live that we may, in our 
measure, transmit the radiance of this Central Light ? 


Mere silence — the silence of the lips — may of 
course cover every variety of mental state. We 
Friends are so accustomed to the thought of its fitness 
to be the " basis" of worship, that I think many of us 
fail to ask ourselves why this is so. Even hereditary 
Friends (or perhaps these especially) seem sometimes 
to misinterpret its real value, and to forget some of its 
meanings. It is also often forgotten that the silence 
of the lips is but a means to an end, or an eloquent 
sign of something deeper. We forget that silence is 
not the same thing as stillness; and that the true 
test of the value either of words or of silence is 
their power to gather into the stillness of true 

First let us consider how far the absence of words 
does tend towards this inward stillness, which is at 
once the condition and the result of any true acquaint- 
ance with God. 

58 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

The disuse of prescribed forms of words, the 
practical recognition that words are not an essential 
part of worship, of course means in the first place 
freedom from any necessary temptation to insincerity. 
Its value in this respect can perhaps hardly be fully 
estimated except by those who have gone through 
the struggles of conscience caused by the habitual use 
of liturgical forms, along with an ever-growing doubt 
how far the prescribed words were true for oneself. 
This uneasiness may arise quite apart from anything 
that would be called "religious doubt" — apart from 
any misgivings as to the truth of creeds or doctrines 
— simply in the form of the very obvious question — 
Do I at this moment experience the feelings I am 
expressing? When I say "there is no health in 
us," or that we "lift up our hearts to the Lord," am 
I uttering a mere empty form ? or, worse still, am I 
trying to induce in myself a purely factitious emotion ? 
I know that many truly pious people are entirely 
free from these scruples, and feel no hesitation in 
repeating, or kneeling while others repeat, such words 
as these just as a method of expressing the most 
general concurrence in an intention of worship, or as 
tending to produce feelings right and suitable in 
themselves, and which they think none the worse for 
being artificially produced. It is a difficult question 
how far such a manner of worship can be legitimate 
or justifiable. I do not see how it can fail often to 

What does Silence mean? 59 

produce in thoughtful minds a sense of insincerity or 
at least a sense of something artificial and factitious 
in our acts of devotion. It may be urged that the 
very object of meeting together for united worship is 
to create, or to stimulate if already existing, certain 
frames of mind and certain devout affections. It is 
a very grave question whether such manipulation of 
experience can be right. Friends at any rate have 
clearly decided against it. I believe this to be one 
of the great services they have rendered to the cause 
of sincerity and truth. The supreme need of the 
multitude of seekers after God in the present day is 
to find some mode of approaching Him which shall 
have in it no suspicion of unreality, of self-deception, 
or even of bias. 

But in these days there are few to whom the use 
of liturgical forms can be free from objections of a 
yet more serious kind than this want of perfect 
consistency with present feeling. The most marked 
characteristic of the last half-century is what has been 
called the "disintegration of beliefs" — not alone 
outspoken doubts as to the truth of the most funda- 
mental doctrines of all religion, but the falling to 
pieces, so to speak, of systems formerly accepted or 
rejected as coherent and organic wholes. Not theo- 
logical systems alone, but these chiefly, have undergone 
processes of analysis and criticism under new lights, 
through which each separate article of any creed has 

60 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

been challenged and discussed on its own merits ; 
orthodoxy is at a discount, and we ask not whether 
any given doctrine is an essential part of Christianity, 
but what are the grounds upon which Christians have 
considered it to be worthy of belief. Each separate 
article of every creed has been so vigorously and so 
publicly challenged and discussed that the undisturbed 
and unquestioning belief in any kind of orthodoxy can 
linger only in very sheltered spots. We have to face 
the fact that "the questioning spirit" is rapidly 
penetrating into every recess of thought and feeling, 
and that in a large proportion of instances the only 
reply we can make to its challenge is " We know not, 
and we need not know." A confession of ignorance 
is being extorted by sincerity from many who used, 
or whose parents used, to think that loyalty required 
from them the utmost positiveness of conviction. 

This state of affairs, whether good or bad, is too 
obvious to be disregarded The Church of England 
with a very uncertain voice, and the Church of Rome 
more peremptorily, meet it by the demand for sub- 
mission, and by the claim that the Church is the 
Divinely appointed guardian of a body of truth, 
which Christians are no more free to dismember than 
to reject Friends have always met it by the quiet 
confidence that (in the language of George Fox) "God 
is come to teach His people Himself" — and that 
there is " One who can speak to our condition," and 

What does Silence mean? 61 

Who, if we yield ourselves to His Spirit, will "lead us 
into all truth." The two methods are obviously 
incompatible, and as we cleave to the one principle 
or to the other, we shall regard the present phase 
of thought mainly with fear or mainly with hope. 
For my own part I believe it to be mainly good, 
because mainly a struggle towards Light — a process 
by which Truth must gain in the long run. It is 
no doubt a process full of distress and of danger to 
individual seekers ; but if our faith be true, if God 
be Himself our Teacher and Guide, how can we doubt 
that all who seek must find ? how can we fear that 
even the blindest wanderings into the wilderness can 
deprive any of us of the care of the Good Shepherd ? 

Now, while passing through this process of dis- 
integration and testing of accepted beliefs, the use of 
a liturgy steeped through and through with dogma 
may well be intolerable to the honest-hearted, while 
yet the need of united worship may be more than 
ever felt. 

There are, I know, many Friends in these days who 
regret the absence of "definite teaching" from our 
meetings, and who would shrink from recognizing it 
as one of the advantages of our manner of worship 
tia&t,just in so far as it is silent, it not only throws 
open the door wide to those who are passing through 
all degrees of doubt and of agnosticism, but allows 
of their sharing in the devotions of others without 

62 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

disturbance from well-meaning zeal, or stumbling- 
blocks in the form of professions of faith. Here of 
course we must recognize that there is a difference of 
judgment amongst us as to the need for doctrinal 
agreement. If to be of one mind on abstract theo- 
logical questions is necessary to our hope of Christian 
unity, we may well fly to definite teaching, even at 
the risk of repelling some of the troubled spirits 
whom we would fain help. But if it be true, as I 
most earnestly believe, that our bond of union lies 
not at all in coincidence of mere opinion, but in the 
following of One Lord, must it not be our desire 
before all things to remove every stumbling-block or 
cause of offence from the path of those who are 
seeking light ? Must we not remember how often the 
excess of definite teaching and its proved fallibility 
has been the very cause of their revolt ? Do we not 
well to be " slow to speak " in the presence of those 
who have been wounded by the strife of tongues ? 

It is time that we should recognize that agnos- 
ticism is not a hostile camp, but a rich recruiting 
ground, — that agnostics are not necessarily adversaries 
of faith, but often the most earnest seekers after it. 
I am of course using the word in what I take to be 
its proper, as it is certainly its original, sense ; not as 
necessarily implying the denial of the possibility of 
any knowledge, but as a disclaimer of special know- 
ledge, respecting the Unseen and Eternal. In this 

What does Silence mean? 63 

sense we surely all are, or ought to be, largely 
agnostics — "Christian agnostics," if such be our 
happy lot — but still ready and even earnest to con- 
fess the imperfection of our knowledge and the dim- 
ness of our vision in regions where the learning of the 
deepest scholars avails but to show the immensity 
and insolubility of the surrounding problems. 

Agnostics in this sense are, not less than others, 
M athirst for the living God." What they need, what 
all of us need, is not an answer to questions, but a 
glimpse of the Presence. We may not be able — 
perhaps no one would be able — to clear up all their 
perplexities. But if in the silence we are truly 
worshipping, we may give the only help that can 
avail — the sense of the reality of that which all seek 
and some have found — of that which seeks all till all 
are found. Prayer lies deeper than thought. It is 
the only power which can subdue all rebellious 
thought, and satisfy all hungry and thirsty thought. 
If we did but understand the depth of conscious need 
which may exist in the very heart of uncertainty as 
to what is lawful as utterance, we should above all 
things dread to block up the entrance to our sanctuary 
with words and dogmas. 

People forget that confident assertion is much 
more likely to produce contradiction than conviction. 
Years ago a story was told me of the experience of 
,one whose casual attendance at a meeting held in 

64 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

unbroken silence had led to hia conversion. His 
comment was, "If they had said anything I could 
have answered them." This vividly describes what 
was for some years my own habitual feeling, when 
struggling with almost overpowering doubts as to the 
truth of Christianity. The words spoken in meetings, 
especially those of the most intellectual and cultivated 
speakers, often did but revive all my difficulties ; but 
the silence — the united stillness — had a subduing and 
healing power not to be described. "Words can always 
be opposed. You cannot oppose silence ; and few, I 
believe, can altogether resist it. 

But it is not only on the ground of its being a 
peculiarly persuasive form of eloquence that I would 
urge the value of silence. It is rather because of its 
inherent fitness as a part of the process by which we 
acquaint ourselves with God, and become aware of 
His Presence in us and amongst us. It means space 
for such inward exercises of mind as in most cases 
precede and accompany any conscious approach to 
the Divine Presence. And here I think we have 
often darkened counsel by the repetition of certain 
traditional phrases, which apart from their context 
become false, such as the expression about the mind 
when rightly prepared for the transmission of Divine 
messages being like "a sheet of blank paper" — a 
comparison very misleading if understood to mean 
that the way to obtain Divine illumination is to 

What does Silence mean? 06 

reduce the human mind to a state of vacancy, but 
apt enough if used to suggest the familiar truth that 
a reflecting surface must be clean and free from con- 
fusing marks if it is to give back clearly the images 
presented to it — that in human minds, as in water, 
stillness is generally a condition necessary for perfect 

The inward silence and stillness for the sake of 
which we value and practice outward silence is a 
very different thing from vacancy. It is rather the 
quiescence of a perfectly ordered fullness — a leaving 
behind of hurrying outward thoughts and an entering 
into the region of central calm. And let us remember 
that it is a condition to be resolutely sought for, not 
a merely passive state into which we may lapse at 
will. In seeking to be still, the first step of necessity 
is to exclude all disturbance and commotion from 
without; but this is not all, there are inward dis- 
turbances and commotions to be subdued with a 
strong hand. There is a natural impulse to fly from 
the presence of God to a multitude of distractions, 
which we must resolutely control if we would taste 
the blessedness of conscious nearness to Him. I 
believe it often is the case that the way to achieve 
this resolute self-control is through thought — through 
a deliberate act of attention to our own highest con- 
ceptions of the nature and the will of Him with 
Whom we have to do. It may be that to achieve 

s. 5 

66 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

it requires a struggle of the will — a struggle not only 
for steady attention but for submission. Many and 
sore conflicts may have to be passed through before 
we can be gathered into that peace of God which 
awaits the humble and contrite soul as it draws near 
to Him. It may be that on any given occasion of 
worship we can but attain to a sense of our own 
poverty and faultiness. The hour spent in an honest 
attempt to withdraw from the things of time and to 
enter into the sanctuary may leave us not higher but 
lower in our own estimation — nearer the truth in- 
deed, and nearer in very truth to ultimate victory, 
but more and more aware of the distance which 
separates us from the haven where we would be. 
Many a painful revelation is made to us in these 
hours ; many an unwelcome duty opened before us ; 
many a secret weakness laid bare. It is indeed true, 
as Friends have been accustomed to say, that we can- 
not expect "to eat the bread of idleness" in our 
silent meetings. Every individual spirit must work 
out its own salvation in a living exercise of heart and 
mind, an exercise in which "fear and trembling" 
must often be our portion, and which cannot possibly 
be fully carried out under disturbing influences from 
without. Silence is often a stern discipline, a laying 
bare of the soul before God, a listening to the "reproof 
of life." But the discipline has to be gone through, 
the reproof has to be submitted to, before we can 

What does Silence mean? 67 

find our right place in the temple. Words may help 
and silence may help, but the one thing needful is 
that the heart should turn to its Maker as the needle 
turns to the pole. For this we must be still. 

It is sometimes assumed that those who are 
concerned for the maintenance of our freedom from 
set forms of words, and from any words without 
"the anointing," desire silence for the sake of spiri- 
tual self-indulgence ; as an opportunity for culti- 
vating ecstatic or abnormal emotion. Those who are 
zealous for the depth and purity of the worship 
"based upon silence," springing out of stillness, are 
often supposed to be comparatively indifferent to the 
service of mankind, — willing to wrap themselves in 
a selfish enjoyment of some kind of mysterious ecstasy 
which may be the luxury of the few, but is of no 
avail for the regeneration of the many. This notion 
that stillness can be advantageous only to a specially 
gifted few strikes at the very root of our ideal. 
Could any missionary zeal be more ardent than was 
that of the early Friends ? any preaching more em- 
phatically for all? and was this noble activity in- 
compatible with a profound listening " in the stillness" 
to the Voice of God, or was it the inevitable outcome 
of that listening ? Surely the outcome of it. Surely 
all good and acceptable and effectual Christian ac- 
tivities do in fact spring from a deep root of listening 
obedience, and derive all their value from the spiritual 


68 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

worship which prompts them. Communion with God, 
and the supreme love of God, must be the very 
fountain of all right outward activity. It is obvious 
that the "silence of all flesh" is to be used not for 
dreaming, but for entering into the deep things of 
truth. The lessons which can be learnt only in 
quietness are the deepest lessons we are capable of 

People not accustomed to Friends' manner of 
worship often say, "But if you want silence and 
quietness, why can't you have it at home and alone ? 
why meet with others at all ? " They little know the 
help that is to be found in the presence of fellow- 
pilgrims and fellow-seekers. A deliberate with- 
drawal from the distractions of sense and of words is 
no doubt practicable in solitude, and it is to be hoped 
that it is in some degree a daily practice with most 
of us ; but experience abundantly shows that it is in 
the united practice of it that it reaches its greatest 
depth. A Friends' meeting, however silent, is at the 
very lowest a witness that worship is something other 
and deeper than words, and that it is to the unseen 
and eternal things that we desire to give the first 
place in our lives. And when the meeting, whether 
silent or not, is awake, and looking upwards, there is 
much more in it than this. In the united stillness of 
a truly " gathered" meeting there is a power known 
only by experience, and mysterious even when most 

What does Silence mean? 69 

familiar. There are perhaps few things which more 
readily flow "from vessel to vessel" than quietness. 
The presence of fellow-worshippers in some gently 
penetrating manner reveals to the spirit something 
of the nearness of the Divine Presence. " Where two 
or three are gathered together in His Name" have 
we not again and again felt that the promise was 
fulfilled and that the Master Himself was indeed " in 
the midst of us" ? And it is out of the depths of 
this stillness that there do arise at times spoken 
words which, springing from the very source of 
prayer, have something of the power of prayer — 
something of its quickening and melting and purify- 
ing effect. Such words as these have at least as much 
power as silence to gather into stillness. 

Those who are strangers to our manner of worship 
often seem unable to see that there can be any united 
worship where there is no joining in the use of the 
same words. They do not understand — no one, I 
think, could understand without experience — what 
harmonies may arise when one thought or one feel- 
ing is echoed and re-echoed from mind to mind, each 
one contributing its own peculiar note, its own chord 
and quality, yet all combining into a fullness and 
richness of illuminated experience such as can 
belong only to the mingling of many voices at a 
moment of entire oneness of spirit, of a true baptism 
into one Name and one Power. 

70 Thoughts on the Central Radianee 

Naturally we cannot speak very freely of the 
sacred hours of communion with our God and wil 
each other. But, however rare and however impe 
fectly realized, we are, I think, bound to place < 
record the fact of such possibilities, not only for tl 
Bake of making known a great power, but also : 
the hope of warning the well-intentioned but wea 
in faith not impatiently to intrude on the broodir 
stillness with alien matter. Any one who comes to 
Friends' meeting bringing with him (in his min< 
a ready-made discourse prepared in the differei 
atmosphere of his own study, of course risks tl 
destruction of the essential condition of truly unite 
worship. Either he must abandon his intention an 
yield to the influences of the surrounding inner lil 
or, if he persists in uttering words unrelated to it, 1 
will probably quench sparks which might have bee 
fanned to a flame of true prayer. Of all the di 
turbing influences from without which hinder tl 
consciousness of communion with God, I think th: 
unwarranted words — words not freshly called fort 
by the united exercise of the moment — are the moi 
disturbing; while the words which do arise froi 
that exercise — words, however feeble or faltering i 
themselves, but vibrating with the reality of a presei 
stirring of spirit — may kindle in others a sacre 
flame which will spread and gain strength till all ai 
once more made aware of their living unity. 

What does Silence mean? 71 

The stillness which is the first condition of true 
worship is also, I believe, its ultimate reward The 
fruit of any personal acquaintance with God must be 
peace. Any real measure of this knowledge must 
necessarily bring calmness, and not only calmness 
but power. It is the very root of that quietness and 
confidence wherein is our strength. 

Our times of united worship should surely be 
times when the keynote of our lives should be clearly 
sounded, whether by words or without words ; times 
which should be as an underlying root of order and 
of felt unity through which all our outward daily 
activities are harmonized and steadied. If we begin 
with the quietness of poverty and of humble de- 
pendence, with a resolute withdrawal from the out- 
ward and changing surface into the innermost, deepest 
chamber of our own hearts, if we do but honestly 
strive to be still that we may know Him to be God, 
we may end with a sense, not I believe otherwise 
attainable, of the clear shining of tranquillizing light ; 
we may come to know the deeper and more blissful 
stillness which is the result of entire self-surrender — 
the stillness for which we have not striven, which 
we could not beforehand have imagined, the stillness 
of a life firmly rooted in the Divine life, ever radiating, 
ever fruitful, without disturbance or disorder — a 
stillness full of Divine harmonies, and satisfying every 

72 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

faculty of mind and soul and spirit — the peace of 
God which passeth all understanding. 

I cannot refrain from reminding Friends of these 
truths, once so familiar, and so deeply important for 
the healing of many spirits in our hungry and thirsty 
generation. But sincerity compels me to add that 
I am speaking of that of which my own experience is 
very imperfect, though real as far as it goes. It is 
that to which I am learning with increasing steadiness 
to look as to the very path of life. In looking over 
George Fox's epistles I am deeply impressed by the 
reiteration of his exhortations to stillness — to "waiting 
in the light " — a thing which he evidently felt to be 
more or less within the power of voluntary effort. 
And in watching what is going on around us in every- 
day life, in reading the literature of the day, whether 
light or grave, I feel that on all sides the need of a 
resolute stillness becomes more and more urgent. 
Partly because so many of our modern conditions 
make it increasingly difficult of attainment, but far 
more because of the very critical nature of the present 
moment in the history of our religious development. 
We are engaged, whether we like it or not, in a 
reconsideration and gradual correction and restate- 
ment of all our deepest beliefs, for we are learning, 

What does Silence mean? 73 

I trust, to put Truth before orthodoxy. For this very 
awful but quite necessary process of correction, we 
need above all things the spirit of reverence and 
patience — we need deep and grave thought, as in the 
sight of God. For all these things quietness is 


" Then thought I to understand this, but it was too hard for 
me, until I went into the Sanctuary of God..." 

" Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and shut the 

It is, I believe, in very various degrees that people 
recognize the distinction between the inner and the 
outer life. To many people I know that the language 
arising from a vivid sense of that difference — the 
language of mysticism — seems to be unmeaning. To 
such, all topics appear to be on one level, and to be 
amenable to one standard — the standard probably of 
common-sense, whether "sanctified" or otherwise. 
Or perhaps a more frequent state of mind is that in 
which the distinction between inward and outward 
is at times vaguely felt, but has never been distinctly 
recognized, and is not habitually dwelt upon. One 
thing is certain — namely, that all those who do 
habitually make the distinction mean by it the same 

1 A paper read to the St Paul's Association, Cambridge. 

The Door of the Sanctuary 75 

thing. They all agree in regarding as "inward" the 
more permanent and important elements of our life — 
the " things unseen and eternal " — and in the feeling 
that these unchanging inner realities must dominate 
the outward; that the inward is that from which 
alone the outward draws any beauty or value or 
significance ; that in case of incompatibility be- 
tween the two, the lightest of inward and spiritual 
objects must outweigh all outward attraction or 
repulsion ; that the heart being fixed, we need not 
fear what flesh can do to us. Without doubt, " the 
Kingdom of Heaven is within us." 

It is to myself impossible not to look at human 
nature, and indeed at everything else, as consisting 
of concentric layers. I have been glad to find that 
some ancient Indian philosopher — perhaps more than 
one — had taught this doctrine of what I have been 
accustomed to call "the coats of the onion." I think 
he enumerated seven or eight such coats. I have 
habitually thought of them as mainly three, — the 
outermost, the intermediate, and the innermost 
regions of our being. For our present purpose, the 
outermost layer of the merely material or trivial, and 
the intermediate layer of the affections need not 
be distinguished. Enough if we keep in mind the 
simpler division into inward and outward — the familiar 
antithesis of the seen and temporal and the unseen 
and eternal. 

76 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

In the growing recognition of this concentric 
structure of life, I seem to myself to find the key to 
many apparent contradictions and incompatibilities. 
That which seen from without appears like a blind 
and miserable chance, may when seen from within 
take its place as a necessary link in a chain of events 
glowing with beauty and significance. That which 
from without looks like a crushing fate may as seen 
from within be the consummation of a drama not the 
less beautiful because partaking of the nature of 
tragedy. At the heart of the deepest sorrow lies a 
joy unknown to lookers on, unless a blessed experience 
of the innermost has prepared them to penetrate its 
mystery. There seems no end to the revelations 
resulting from the power of faith to pass beyond the 
visible. Faith knows the open secret — the secret of 
Jesus — the joy of conscious oneness with the Father. 
Faith is that which opens to us the door of the 
Sanctuary, and abides in the innermost, the central, 
region of light and love. 

But a living faith must radiate. I suppose no one 
can be conscious of possessing any such faith, even as 
a grain of mustard seed, without at least desiring to 
share it with others. And here for most of us begins 
a phase of difficulty, and even of risk, of which we 
may through life be painfully conscious. The sense 
of failure to share our treasure may even seem to us 
to cast a doubt on the reality of our possession ; and 

The Door of the Scmctuwy 77 

may, — perhaps rightly — challenge our claim to any 
true discipleship. To find ourselves dumb where we 
ought to be eloquent may be a cause of standing 

There are in fact two main currents of feeling 
with regard to our religious life which it is not always 
easy to harmonize and combine. 

On the one hand we must all feel that union with 
God is the very root, or fountain, of union with each 
other — that as His children we are " gathered together 
in one" — made one in the Beloved Son in whom He 
is well pleased ; that God is no respecter of persons, 
and that in drawing near to Him we cannot but leave 
behind all personal and separating feelings — being 
made aware of our share in the common " inheritance 
of the saints in light," and feeling of necessity the 
impulse to share, to show forth, to radiate, which is 
the very mark of the fruitful life of the spirit. 

On the other hand it is, I suppose, an equally 
universal feeling that the deeper and the more precious 
any experience, the less ready we must be to talk 
about it, or to attempt to utter it. A natural instinct 
of modesty and reverence seals our lips with regard 
to our most sacred possessions, and restrains us 
from rashly approaching the corresponding hidden 
treasures of other minds. " He is in Heaven and thou 
upon earth, therefore let thy words be few" is the 
keynote of a very real and right feeling with regard 

78 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

to those "best things" which we vaguely call 

There are, I suppose, simple souls to whom none 
of these scruples and difficulties occur — whose song 
of praise rises uninterruptedly and unwaveringly 
from a childlike heart, and on whose lips the words 
of eternal life are but the natural overflowing of the 
well of living waters springing up within. For these 
simple-hearted ones — that is, for the deepest and 
truest hearts — it may be far oftener possible to share 
with others their inmost treasure than it is for most 
of us, with our complicated susceptibilities and 
consciousnesses. But these very susceptibilities may 
have their use. If we cannot all rise to the level of 
that true simplicity which belongs especially to the 
pure in heart, we may sometimes find that our very 
difficulties have qualified us to be specially helpful 
to fellow-pilgrims on our own lower level 

It is on this ground that I venture to offer what 
follows as to the chief difficulties besetting those 
whose snare is too much reserve rather than too 
much readiness to speak on the deepest matters. 
And here I must say that I believe there are some 
whose silence is as simple and natural, and as little a 
cause of discouragement or perplexity to themselves 
or of injury to others, as is the childlike outspokenness 
of simplicity to the happy souls to whom it belongs. 
Those who feel their own dumbness a reproach or an 

The Door of the Scmcttmry 79 

embarrassment are of course people in whom both 
impulses exist and are not yet fully harmonized 

We are not all fully conscious of the distinction 
between the inner and outer layers of our own lives, 
or those of others, nor do we all possess in equal 
degree the faculty of passing at will from one to the 
other. For want of a clear sense of the difference 
and the harmony between inward and outward — of 
what I believe we may call the mystical sense — much 
of what we hear about the religious life seems to 
many of us to be out of tune. People often seem 
to forget that language appropriate to one plane or 
level of life may be quite misleading when under- 
stood of the other. In the use of parables, where 
the inner reality is wrapped up in and conveyed by 
means of outer realities, both the distinction and the 
harmony between inward and outward are of course 
preserved and even emphasized. Our Lord's own 
example shows the wonderful power of this method 
of conveying the things of the kingdom without 
profaning them ; so that while those who have ears 
to hear receive them in a form deeper and more 
effectual than that of any mere verbal proposition, 
those who are not ripe for them may in hearing hear 
and not understand. Figures of speech while con- 
veying the most expose the least, — they preserve the 
sanctity, the fullness, and the mystery of the words 
of eternal life. Figurative language, the language 

80 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

of poetry, is certainly that which comes nearest to 
uttering the unutterable — towards telling the open 
secret. But we have not all the gift of poetic, any 
more than of mystical, speech. And we may well 
shrink from the attempt to describe in familiar prose 
experiences for which poetry itself is not adequate. 

My own feeling is that words belong to the out- 
ward, and that in the innermost depths of our being 
— in the sanctuary of God — words are of necessity 
left behind. Words cannot utter the Light, though 
they may tell of it. If anything can be shared in 
this region it will be not by words, but by a living 
radiance. As we approach the Holy Place, therefore, 
we may well be silent, letting the Light shine without 
words into our hearts, if so be that our light also 
may in its turn quietly shine before men. 

But there is a further hindrance to much speaking 
of the things of the Spirit. All of us have, I suppose, 
some power — though we have it in very unequal 
degrees, — of discerning this innermost Light. But 
even in those who possess it in the highest degree, 
the faculty of spiritual vision would seem to be of 
necessity intermittent. 

I think we may safely say that almost all the 
saints of whose lives we have any records seem to 
have known alternations of light and darkness ; of 
rejoicing in, and mourning the loss of, that sense of 
the Presence of God which is their heaven. Some- 

The Door of the Sanctuary 81 

times of course the periods of eclipse are, or appear 
to the subject of them to be, the result of unfaithful- 
ness; and the bitterness of self-reproach may then be 
the worst part of the darkness. 

Yet the fact of intermittence seems to be in itself 
not only innocent but inevitable ; and, like all other 
inevitable conditions, capable of contributing to our 
highest welfare. I believe that in the Divine hus- 
bandry the alternations of day and night, summer and 
winter, are not only needful but even in some degree 
intelligible, conditions of fruitfulness. If such alter- 
nations haveformed a part of our own inner experience, 
— and I suppose few of us are quite without them, 
though they seem to be much more marked in some 
lives than in others — we must know that there are 
quite involuntary, and therefore blameless, changes 
of mental temperature and atmosphere which tend to 
produce them. The darkness may have in it no sense 
of condemnation. It may be a mere mental blindness, 
whether temporary or permanent. How painful a 
deprivation such blindness may be, even apart from 
the self-reproach it is so apt to arouse, those only can 
know whose sight has at times been blessed by the 
radiance "which evermore makes all things new" — 
in which even what must remain mysterious is illumi- 
nated by the very sunshine of Eternity. 

But such darkness is not merely a privation while 
it lasts. It too often shakes our belief in that which 

82 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

the light seemed to have revealed to us. We are 
tempted to regard the successive aspects of our life 
as mutually contradictory ; and are ready to give up 
the hope of returning sunshine. Very naturally such 
a sense of the instability and uncertainty of our own 
inward experience tends to seal our lips. Not only 
we cannot to-day give yesterday's message, but we 
begin to doubt whether we had a message yesterday 
— perhaps whether there can be such things as 
messages from above at all. 

For we all feel, and I hope and believe that we 
are learning increasingly to feel, that our one great 
need is reality — that our words can help others only 
if, and so far as, we ourselves have first-hand ex- 
perience of the things of which we speak. There- 
fore many of us must face the question whether the 
intermittent character of our religious experience 
does indeed disprove its reality ; and this is a question 
not to be lightly answered. On the face of it, inter- 
mittence does, no doubt, wear an appearance of 
change and instability. But we must distinguish. 
There are things whose very nature is to intermit. 
I am inclined to think that emotions, and especially 
religious emotions, are among them. Certainly all 
intercourse of mind with mind must be intermittent 
The important question would seem to be whether 
the intermittent gleams of heavenly light recur ; and 
if so, whether their tendency and direction are stead- 

The Door of the ScmclMMry 83 

fast; pointing to an underlying constancy which 
may even be emphasized by superficial fluctuations. 
Intermittence seems to belong to the human and 
personal side of religion — to the individual experience 
of lovingkindness without which our knowledge of 
the unseen would be but a study of the general laws 
of the universe. Human intercourse depends as 
much upon silence as upon words. We could not 
learn to speak or to understand speech from listening 
to a quite continuous sound. I doubt whether we 
could ever have a true sense of hearing the word of 
the Lord if there were no pauses in that which 
impresses us as His speech. There is a tenderness 
in the occasional impression which we do not feel in 
the awful uniformity of law. The contrast between 
general and unchangeable truth on the one hand, and 
on the other the personal touch of a Fatherly bene- 
diction, seems to me to be wonderfully expressed in 
those words of the prophet, "His goings forth are 
prepared as the morning, and He shall come unto us 
as the early and latter rain upon the earth." Were 
all his dealings with us as uniform as the goings 
forth of the sun in heaven, we could scarcely feel that 
he was speaking to us individually ; but when He 
touches us as gently and as varyingly as the early and 
the latter rain touch the earth, then indeed we can- 
not but feel that the finger of God is come unto us. 
It would seem as if the development of a human spirit 


84 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

needed every variety of mental season ; as if the 
language of the inspealdng Voice must be a language 
of separate phrases, — often repeated, rising and fall- 
ing, emphasized by pauses ; coming to us as the early 
and latter rain upon the earth ; not in a continuous 
torrent, but gently penetrating, — and pausing — and 
penetrating again. We have to learn to listen and 
to wait, as well as to speak. 

That Eternal sunshine which we know by occa- 
sional glimpses belongs of course to the innermost 
region of our being, and the central region of all 
being — to that which is spiritual — to the Sanctuary. 
But the very words of our Master which I began by 
quoting seem to show that this is not a region in 
which, in this life at least, we can consciously abide 
always. The very injunction to enter into our closet 
and shut the door, the very words " when thou pray- 
est," seem to show that He is speaking not of our 
habitual consciousness ; not of any mental attitude 
which can be maintained "without ceasing," but 
of something necessarily occasional — of isolated acts 
of worship. Such times are as peaks catching the 
sunshine while the level lands are wrapped in mist — 
mounts of transfiguration on which we are not yet 
permitted to set up our tabernacles. 

It is, I believe, the same not only with acts of 
worship, but with all our moments of inspiration and 
revelation — our glimpses of the blessed Vision. They 

The Door of the Samtuary 85 

come and go — we can neither command them nor 
retain them. Well for us if we do not pass from 
them into those darkest abysses of which we find such 
frequent mention in the lives of the saints. 

Enter into thy closet and shut the door. Ex- 
perience, even a slight and fragmentary experience, 
of that innermost chamber and its revelations makes 
us all feel the need of shutting the door — that we 
may be alone with the Alone — that we may dwell for 
a time in the undisturbed sense of His Presence, and 
yield ourselves wholly to its sacred influence. But 
as we pass outwards into the common daylight we 
are, as I have said, confronted with the awful question, 
Are these things realities or dreams ? That which we 
saw daring the blessed moments spent in the Sanc- 
tuary of God, is it a mere visionary appearance to be 
left behind, or is it a revelation of hidden depths 
permanently underlying, and having the right to 
dominate, all our outer life? 

Such questions can, I believe, be fully answered 
only by the practical process of allowing our lives to 
be governed by all the light we have. Meanwhile 
one great test of the value of any passing gleams 
must lie in observing whether they do in fact recur, 
and whether in their recurrence they always point in 
the same direction. What we really believe is not 
what we may think we see to-day or to-morrow, but 
that to which our mind returns again and again in its 

86 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

most undisturbed moments, with a growing force of 
conviction, and a growing power of adjusting to these 
convictions the passing elements of our outward life. 

There is perhaps another reason why those of us 
whose religious experience is of an intermittent and 
perhaps perplexing character may shrink from ap- 
pealing to it as of any value to others. The very 
act of speaking of the things of the kingdom implies 
a certain claim to be a subject of that kingdom. We 
have been accustomed so closely to associate the 
ideas of piety and of holiness, that some of us feel at 
times a scruple about making any confession of faith, 
lest it should seem to be a profession of sanctity. 

I believe we are very gradually learning to dis- 
tinguish between these two things. Most of us have 
had to recognize that it is possible to have some 
real religion without being altogether true and con- 
sistent — and many of us have learnt, or are still 
learning, with a mixture perhaps of thankful ad- 
miration and of perplexity, how very good it is possible 
for some to be without holding any of those doctrines 
which we have sometimes been taught to consider as 
inseparable from a pure morality. Without plunging 
into the depths of this problem, I may say that I 
believe we need not really, if we are honest, allow 
ourselves to be put to silence by the fear of appearing 
to claim any degree of holiness. God makes His sun 
to shine on the just and the unjust; and the Sun 

The Door of the Sanctuary 87 

of Righteousness shines as brightly on the lowest and 
most imperfect as on the highest and best of human 
beings. If indeed we have, however slightly and 
intermittently, yet really, felt the healing in His 
wings, we cannot be wrong in letting others know, 
if occasion serves, that the fact is so. It is true that 
the desire to share one's treasure, to help and not to 
hinder, does at times seem to lead to a putting for- 
ward of one's best, which is perilously akin to in- 
sincerity. But it goes without saying that one need 
not be insincere. 

Can we do anything to lessen the fragmentariness 
of our religious experience — in other words, to main- 
tain or increase our habitual sense of the Presence 
of God? 

As I have already said, I believe it to be a Divine 
ordinance that this sense should be in some degree 
intermittent — but I also believe that with most of us 
the intermissions are more frequent and more total 
than they need be. We may, I believe, have too 
much of any kind of emotion. We can hardly have 
too much steadfastness. 

The chief of all the means by which God makes 
His Presence felt in our hearts is assuredly trouble. 
" When I was in trouble I called on the Lord and He 
heard me'' must I suppose be for all time the ex- 
perience of humanity. "Unto the upright there 
ariseth light in the darkness." As the stars are to 

88 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

be seen by day from the bottom of a well, so are the 
heights of bliss to be known from the depths of 
tribulation. This is an undoubted fact of experience, 
to which we have an incessant witness all through 
Scripture ; and which perhaps most of us have learnt 
in our measure by our own personal experience. 
Sometimes, it is true (and this to many of us is one of 
the bitterest parts of sorrow), our trouble while it 
lasts does but make us feel bad in every sense — 
weary, perplexed, disturbed, perhaps even rebellious. 
It is as the Apostle says " afterwards" only that we 
can begin to understand what it has done for us. 
Still, in our trouble, however hateful to ourselves 
may be our state of mind, we do almost perforce call 
upon the Lord, and He does hear us. There are 
times in our lives when, partly through trouble and 
partly through questioning, the very power to pray 
may seem to have deserted us. Yet the dumb and 
perhaps involuntary appeal for help — the mere daily 
and hourly uplifting of our troubles and anxieties 
into the Father's hands — may be met by such daily 
and hourly solutions and deliverances as to give us a 
completely fresh sense of the meaning and value of 
prayer ; perhaps not only restoring but permanently 
enlarging our ability to pray. The mere flying to 
Him for refuge may have in it a reality not always to 
be found in our more deliberate acts of devotion. 
Trouble, I am sure, is the great Guide to the 

The Door of the Sanctuary 89 

Sanctuary. But the teaching of trouble is what we 
cannot provide for ourselves. The Father alone 
knows when and how to apply that discipline. 

But there are some means which we may de- 
liberately take towards a more habitual acquaintance 
with that place of true inward worship which we call 
the Sanctuary. The chief of the favourable con- 
ditions, which we have it more or less in our power 
to secure for ourselves, is, I believe, a resolute quiet- 
ness. And this, I suppose, is what is chiefly meant 
by our Lord's injunction to "shut the door." We 
need appointed and carefully guarded times in which 
to withdraw from all outward things, from all dis- 
traction and disturbance and interruption, that we 
may dwell for a time beyond their reach — watching 
imto prayer. 

I know that however easy it may be to secure 
outward quietness, and to shut the door of our brick 
and mortar sanctuary — however great may be the 
help of this outward and sensible withdrawal into a 
time and place set apart for devotion — it is by no 
means equally easy to achieve a true inward retire- 
ment into the Sanctuary of God Here I think we 
must not try to follow each other's experience. I am 
sure that we must not try to make rules or a pattern 
for the experience of others. It is clear that indi- 
viduals are very variously affected by any particular 
mode of devotion. But I think all will agree that 

90 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

quietness is both a necessary condition and a blessed 
result of any true worship, and that the daily habit 
of seeking it for this end can hardly fail to have a 
strengthening and calming effect upon our minds, and 
to stamp on them some abiding sense of the Presence 
of God. 

Lastly, we may endeavour to keep clear the path 
to the Sanctuary by " dwelling deep." It is increas- 
ingly recognized that we have some power — though 
a power varying very much from one individual to 
another — of passing voluntarily from one plane, or 
one layer, of our life to the other ; and this power, so 
far as it is natural and wholesome, may like other 
powers be increased by practice. 

I say so far as it is natural and wholesome ; for 
I wish to make it clear that I am not referring to 
anything in the nature of trance or ecstasy. I mean 
by the deeper plane the region of the ethical and 
spiritual — the unseen and eternal — the region of 
" great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to 
the end." I mean the innermost layer in that con- 
centric structure of life of which I have spoken. We 
certainly cannot dwell permanently on the heights 
or in the depths, but we can dwell permanently in 
view of them. We can cultivate the habit of looking 
towards them and recognizing their existence. We 
can make a practice of judging events and characters 
as far as may be from within ; with reference to the 

The Door of the Somcbuary 91 

Divine and eternal standards, not to the superficial 
"appearance." The outer regions of life, even its, 
most trivial and transient interests, have their place 
and function. Both as affording links with our fellow- 
creatures, and as tending to preserve sanity and 
balance of mind, it seems essential that they should 
not be disregarded ; but their use and beauty will 
gain, not lose, by their being steadfastly subordinated 
to that which is really deeper and of more lasting 

It is in the personal or individual "part of our 
experience that we are disturbed by intermissions 
and that we have need of words. I believe that 
neither words nor variations have any place in the 
innermost Sanctuary. Words are the natural vehicles 
of the trifles light as air which belong to our outer- 
most region or atmosphere, and they are necessary 
weapons and precious links in the stormy and beautiful 
intermediate region of the affections. But the deeper 
we go the fewer will be our words, and the less will 
any need of them be felt. As we enter the innermost 
chamber of our own hearts, words, and it may be even 
thoughts, are left behind. In the innermost Sanctuary 
itself nothing is known but the Light. Those who 
are permitted to dwell much in that Light of Life 
become suffused with a radiance more powerful than 
words to convey to others the knowledge of the 
place from whence cometh our help. Where that 

92 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

radiance is, words and silence are alike living and 

Then is it possible that we should not desire to 
dwell continually in the inner chamber from whence 
the rays of the Sun of Righteousness are seen to issue ? 

It is not for us, whose experience of these deepest 
joys is but fragmentary and limited, to say what may 
be the possibilities of those who not only are called, 
but have from the beginning steadfastly obeyed the 
call, to be saints. It may be that there are those 
whose daily and hourly abode has been consciously 
"under the shadow of the Almighty" — who, having 
made " the Lord who is our Refuge their habitation," 
need nevermore go out. Some I have known of whom 
this appeared to be true. Yet even for these there 
must, I think, be different levels — even for them the 
Mount of transfiguration is rather to be visited than 
taken as a settled abode. And for most of us the 
Door of the Sanctuary must probably continue to 
open and shut. If this be our present portion let us 
not complain of it. Only let us not forget the Light 
if it should at times be hidden from our eyes. The 
intervals of darkness or twilight may become shorter, 
the gloom less unmitigated, as we go forward towards 
the River. It is experience, and repeated experience, 
of central truth and reality that transfigures life. 
The unchangeable realities do not depend for their 
continuance on our unbroken attention to them ; and 

The Door of the Sanctuary 93 

"tasks in hours of insight willed may be through 
hours of gloom fulfilled." Let us above all things 
keep the visions we have seen, and "ponder them in 
our hearts." We can never look at life with the same 
eyes when once we have been permitted a glimpse 
into its underlying central glow of Light and Love. 
The glory may fade from our sight, but we have seen 
it. Again and again we shall return to the innermost 
chamber and shut the door. Again and again we 
shall find that in that quiet and holy place the 
crooked things are made straight and the rough 
places plain ; and that a light will shine, sometimes 
more and sometimes less fully and clearly, but always 
enough to show us the next step in the upward path. 
As the practice of withdrawing from all passing things 
into the Sanctuary becomes confirmed, this experience, 
to which as to a loadstone we must return again and 
again, will become the keynote of life. All that is 
outside it will be subdued into harmony with it. 
That which seems to contradict it will be seen to be 
mere shadow. The shadows will flee away. All that 
is outward changes and passes. " Thy soul and God 
stand sure." 


From the earliest times of our Society its members 
have borne their testimony against War and against 
Superfluities. These two testimonies have an essential 
connection, the nature of which has been clearly 
brought out by John Woolman, especially in his 
" Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich 1 ." 

" Where," says he, " that spirit works which loves 
riches, and, in its working, gathers wealth and cleaves 
to customs which have their root in self-pleasing ; 
and whatever name it hath, it still desires to defend 
the treasures thus gotten ; — this is like a chain where 
the end of one link encloses the end of the other ; 
the rising up of a desire to obtain wealth is the 
beginning : this desire, being cherished, moves to 
action, and riches thus gotten please self ; and while 
self has a life in them, it desires to have them defended. 
Wealth is attended with power, by which bargains 

1 Journal and Works of John Woolman. Dublin, 1794, 
p. 455. 

War and Superfluities 95 

and proceedings contrary to universal righteousness 
are supported ; and here oppression, carried on with 
worldly policy and order, clothes itself with the name 
of justice, and becomes like a seed of discord in the 
soul ; and as a spirit which wanders from the pure 
habitation prevails, so the seeds of war swell and 
sprout, and grow, and become strong, until much fruit 
is ripened. 

"Thus cometh the harvest spoken of by the 
prophet, which 'is a heap, in the day of grief and 
desperate sorrows.' Oh ! that we, who declare against 
wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, 
may walk in the light, and therein examine our 
foundation and motives in holding great estates! 
May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture 
of our houses, and the garments in which we array 
ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have 
nourishment in these our possessions, or not. Holding 
treasures in the self-pleasing spirit is a strong plant, 
the fruit whereof ripens fast." 

Every conscience will surely bear witness to the 
truth of this warning that luxury is the seed of war 
and of oppression ; the earnest desire " to be dis- 
entangled from everything connected with selfish 
customs," must find an echo in every Christian heart. 
But what is luxury? we shall be asked: and how 
can we be so disentangled from it, as to be clear of 

96 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

the reproach of the misery which goes along with it ? 
The problem is essentially a practical one, and the 
answer will be found by those, and only by those, who 
honestly desire to work it out in their own lives. 

When we speak of the duty of renouncing super- 
fluities, we are certain to be met with the objections 
that it is impossible really to draw a line between 
superfluities and necessaries ; that, in fact, what are 
superfluities to some are necessaries to others ; and 
that if we made it our object to pare down our way of 
living to the very utmost, we should have to become 
mere hermits, and to sacrifice to the achievement 
many of the good and useful purposes of life. 

From these obvious and undeniable truths, many 
people, in our time and country, come to the con- 
clusion that there is no sense or meaning in the idea 
of renouncing superfluities, and that what we cannot 
theoretically and precisely limit we may unlimitedly 
indulge. But the Christian instinct goes deeper than 
this. With or without a completely satisfactory 
theory, it is matter of familiar observation that 
Christians do, in proportion to the depth and fervour 
of their religion, experience a tendency to abandon 
the use of many things formerly enjoyed, and in 
themselves innocent In spite of all difficulty as to 
boundary lines, and of all opposition from within and 
from without, there is in fervent Christianity a 
radical incompatibility with self-indulgence. There 

War and Superfluities 97 

is a rising tide which lifts those who boldly launch 
out into the Christian life above many things to 
which they have formerly clung, and changes the 
current of their desires. Lower pleasures pale and 
fade before the Dayspring from on high, and pilgrims 
going to the Celestial City must needs leave behind 
them much of this world's treasure. Many things 
which to those whose horizon is bounded by this life 
seem necessaries become manifest impediments in 
running that race of which the prize is the inheritance 
of the saints in light. 

In truth, the answer to all difficulties about 
renouncing superfluities lies in the fact that the 
expression is obviously relative. When we speak of 
rejecting " superfluities," we do not mean that every- 
thing should be laid aside without which it is possible 
to exist ; but that life should be freed from whatever 
is superfluous (i.e. not conducive) to its real object. 
The necessity of a winnowing away of superfluities in 
this sense is recognised in every art. We say of a 
well trained athlete that he "has not a superfluous 
ounce of flesh" ; a painter knows that the purity of 
his colouring depends upon his not laying on a single 
superfluous tint ; the first condition of good writing 
is not to use a superfluous word. And Christians, as 
" pilgrims and strangers," should not encumber them- 
selves with a single superfluous burden ; that is, with 
any possession or pursuit which does not in some true 

s. 7 

98 Thoughts on the Centred Radiance 

sense promote their great aim — the glory of God in 
the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards 

It is perfectly true that we can lay down no 
precise or invariable rule as to what things are 
superfluous to the Christian life, any more than we 
can give rules as to what is superfluous in art or 
literature. But none the less is the principle clear. 
Whatever does not help, hinders. " He that gather- 
eth not with Me, scattereth." In this world, as we 
are continually finding out in all directions, nothing 
stands alone — nothing fails to produce some effect. 
Whatever adds nothing to the general harmony 
weakens it. Upon each one of us lies the respon- 
sibility of distinguishing in our own case between the 
weapon or the armour necessary for our warfare, and 
the burden which is but an encumbrance. We cannot 
make rules for each other, but we can, if we will, bring 
all our own habits and possessions to this one test — 
Do they invigorate us in body and mind ? Do they 
increase in ourselves, and in others concerned in 
them, the power to bless and to do good ? Do they 
really feed the flame of Divine love in us, or do they 
clog, choke, and impede it ? 

Seen in this light, there is in the idea of re- 
nouncing superfluities nothing niggardly, rigid, or 
artificial To get rid of encumbrances is not, from 
this point of view, more important than to use 

War and Superfluities 99 

liberally whatever does really serve the great purpose 
of our life. We are not recommending an arbitrary 
or selfish asceticism, but recognising the inevitable 
result of engaging heart and soul in the Christian 
warfare. The spirit lusteth against the flesh now, as 
in the days of the Apostles ; there is, and always 
while we are in this world must be, a strife between 
the inward and the outward, the permanent and the 
transitory. We cannot get or keep hold of that which 
is unchangeable without letting go what is perishable, 
for no man can serve two masters. 

And we are not called upon to limit the freedom 
of others in this respect. For it is most true that 
what is a superfluity to one is a necessary to another. 

Our natural characters and physical and mental 
conditions make some far more dependent than 
others upon outward help and comfort. It would be 
idle to propose one rule for old and young, sick and 
well ; and equally idle, and worse than idle, to wish 
the scholar and the artist, the preacher and the 
merchant, to mould their outward lives on the same 
pattern. The surroundings which are needed to keep 
a highly educated man or woman in full health of 
mind and spirits, would be thrown away upon an 
agricultural labourer. Endless diversity seems to be 
as much the glory of the kingdom of heaven as of the 
animal and vegetable kingdoms. 

Some again are providentially called to administer 


100 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

a larger outward domain than others, and these, of 
course, may require for their peculiar service a 
comparatively complicated and extensive machinery. 
Without corresponding experience, it would indeed 
be an impertinence to attempt to judge what parti- 
cular things may, in such cases, be the mere necessaries 
of life ; parts of the indispensable machinery of life 
on a large scale. But the principle of eliminating 
whatever is useless and burdensome is, obviously, 
quite as applicable (if not even more urgent in its 
application) to life on a large as on a small scale 1 . 

There is lastly a great variety of experience in 
this matter, depending upon our various stages of 
spiritual growth. What is necessary to the child is 
superfluous to the man. In this sense, superfluities 
may be said to be the things which we outgrow, — 
things, perhaps, which have served a very useful 
purpose in their season, which may even have been 
necessary for the full development of our spiritual 
life, — but which, like a husk or egg-shell, would 

1 I may, perhaps, here venture to suggest that the whole 
question of domestic service seems to me to need, in this view, 
very thorough consideration, and a large measure of reformation. 
The hiring of a greater number of servants than we really need 
(involving, as it must, either the maintenance of a number of 
people in idleness, or the laying upon some of them much labour 
for things which do not really profit any human being, or most 
likely combining both these evils), seems to me to be one of the 
most prolific of the weeds which over-run and choke our domestic 

Wa/r cmd Suuperflmties 101 

inevitably cramp it unless thrown aside at the right 
time. Without undervaluing or condemning any of 
these helps to our infancy, we may yet rejoice as we 
perceive ourselves to be outgrowing them. What 
was necessary has become superfluous. What is this 
but the growth of independence? No doubt all 
growth must be gradual. No doubt it is wisest to be 
very patient with ourselves and others, and not to 
hurry any process of development, lest we sacrifice 
vigour to precocity. But if we are really growing, it 
is impossible that we should not outgrow many 
things in which we formerly delighted, and in which 
we can still rejoice to see others innocently delighting. 
Every high aim demands the laying aside of lesser 
pursuits ; the highest aim of all will assuredly not be 
less exacting. As we advance in singleness of eye 
and devotedness to the service of our Master, we 
shall inevitably find ourselves parting company with 
many of the objects which formerly occupied us. 
But we may rejoice in such evidence of our growing 
hold upon the unseen and eternal, without desiring 
to deprive those who still lean upon what is seen and 
temporal of any real prop. 

The service rendered to the cause of peace on 
earth by the winnowing and sifting away of super- 
fluities is twofold. 

In the first place, it is an increase of spiritual 
vigour. To have our lives severely and increasingly 

102 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

purged from all clogging and impeding luxury, is 
to go from strength to strength ; to become more 
serviceable and valiant soldiers of the Prince of Peace. 
For not only does growing strength and independence 
convert many former necessaries into superfluities, 
but resolution in freeing ourselves from what is un- 
profitable reacts with bracing effect upon the mind. 
It must be remembered that it is not only with regard 
to expense that things may be superfluous. In the 
service of Christ not only money but time is redeemed 
from waste. Plainness and simplicity of living set us 
free from superfluous interests and occupations as 
much as from superfluous possessions ; and the de- 
liverance is even a greater one. Indeed it is obvious 
that the chief evil resulting from superfluous posses- 
sions is that they occupy time and strength in things 
not conducive to the real object of our lives. 

Greatest of all is the deliverance from waste of 
feeling which is effected when, and in proportion as, 
we learn strenuously to "labour for that which 
endureth"; when life assumes its true character 
of a race, a pilgrimage, a warfare ; when we have 
learnt to recognise the importance of laying aside 
every weight, as well as every sin, knowing that our 
path is ever upwards. Thus in all directions we find 
that we must be freed from what is superfluous if 
we are to live with our loins girded and our lamps 

War and Superfluities 103 

And, in the second place, to disentangle ourselves 
from superfluities is to overcome and to defy in our 
own persons that spirit of greediness which is (to 
use John Woolman's profoundly significant language) 
"the seed of war" and of oppression. If it is too 
much to say that there is no other cause of quarrel- 
ling amongst nations or individuals, we may, at any 
rate, safely assert that a very large proportion of all 
disputes can be traced to selfish claims and desires 
on one side, if not on both. If no one desired either 
to get or to keep more than his share of the good 
things of this life, how much occasion of war would 
be left? How many wars are there which can be 
shown to be in their origin and course purely dis- 
interested 1 ? And can we be doing our part towards 
extinguishing the greedy spirit which leads to war, 
while we ourselves are clinging to, and nourishing a 
love of, all manner of expensive luxuries ? 

Any testimony against war (or, indeed, against 
any other evil) is apt to be respected just in proportion 
to its manifest disinterestedness. 

1 It is, I believe, well known that in our day the panics which 
tend so much to bring on wars, and to keep up the now universal 
enormous armaments (which in their wastefulness and in the 
immorality they lead to, are, perhaps, even greater evils than 
actual fighting), are largely brought about by those who have a 
direct pecuniary interest in exciting them, either for stock- 
jobbing or for newspaper-selling purposes. 

104 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

In former days, Friends, as we all know, had 
continually to suffer in person and in purse for their 
testimonies ; and in those sufferings lay the secret 
of their influence. Most of the battles thus fought 
have been actually won ; and Friends, therefore, 
have not of late years had much opportunity of 
giving these striking proofs of their sincerity. They 
have even been reproached with comfortably enjoying 
wealth protected by the sword, while refusing to take 
their share in the defence of their country. I do not 
say that the reproach has been deserved. But surely 
it becomes us to live in such a manner as to make 
it manifestly absurd. Surely those who feel it their 
duty to hold aloof from the sacrifice of blood and 
treasure so freely made by others on behalf of our 
common country, and who have even refused obe- 
dience to demands made upon them by the law, are 
bound to be very clear, not only in their own con- 
sciences, but in the sight of all men, as to their 
motives for such abstinence. That abstinence, to 
command respect, must be seen to proceed, not from 
any slothful unwillingness to encounter the hardships 
or the sufferings of war, but from a determination to 
risk the sacrifice of whatever can be protected by the 
sword rather than be accessory to its use against our 
brethren. Unless we do in very truth rise above the 
war spirit, we shall assuredly, in the eyes of others, if 

War and Superfluities 105 

not in fact, fall below it. And if the salt have lost its 
savour, wherewith shall it be salted ? In our refusal 
to fight, upon the ground that we are Christians, we 
are in effect claiming to be in this matter as salt to 
the national morality, and shall we be content to 
become fit for nothing but the dunghill? Yet a 
Quaker who lives in and for such things as can be 
defended by the sword which he declines to use, is 
certainly sinking below the soldier's level. It is not 
by sitting still in comfort, and talking about the 
"horrors of war," that we shall ever bring about the 
reign of peace on earth ; that can come to pass only 
as a consequence of the triumph of Christian principle, 
and Christianity is not for those who count their lives 
dear to themselves. It is the religion of the Cross, 
or else a mere name. It is as soldiers of Christ in 
deed and in truth, joyfully enduring hardness, turn- 
ing undauntedly the left cheek to those who have 
smitten us on the right, heaping coals of fire on the 
heads of our enemies, and overcoming evil with good, 
that we can alone hope to make an end of wars and 
fightings on earth. To fight under Christ's banner 
against selfishness means strenuous living and in- 
cessant self-discipline. It means that we should 
rejoice in our growing independence of outward 
things ; and that if we have to wait for opportunities 
of active and tangible or definite service, the time of 

106 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

waiting should be spent in vigilant training and self- 

The special value of this method of promoting 
peace through a denial of the spirit which leads to 
war is that it is practical, though no doubt indirect. 
It bears the peculiar and well known Quaker stamp 
of witness bearing, or " testimony," not in word but 
in deed, and at one's own cost. We are in these days 
often tempted to go out into words and doctrines, and 
to transfer to preaching some of the strength which 
used to be stored up in silence and spent in practice. 
The old method of withstanding evil was first to clear 
ourselves from it with scrupulous thoroughness, before 
attacking it in others. Clean hands and resolute 
firmness were felt to be of more value than a ready 
tongue in fighting that battle which is " not ours but 
God's." And it remains unchangeably true that it is 
by the purifying of each individual life through indi- 
vidual obedience that the actual kingdom of our Lord 
can alone be extended. In so deep a sense are we 
members one of another, that to stand clear of evil is 
not only the necessary condition of influencing others 
for good, and itself the most effectual of influences, — 
it is the actual increase of the health of the body. 
In each one of us either the redeeming spirit, or the 
spirit which opposes redemption, must find a foot- 
hold, a fortress, a power ; and no detail of life is too 

War and Superfluities 107 

small to bear the impress of the spirit which has the 
dominion, and to minister to its growth. 

This method of witnessing by personal plainness and 
simplicity against the source of wars has, moreover, the 
advantage of being open to all, at once and continually. 
Many of us have but little opportunity of speaking in 
favour of peace where words can be of any avail, and 
some of us even feel little hope from any mere words 
on this subject. For in words there is, indeed, but 
little difference of opinion as to the desirableness of 
peace. No one seriously denies it. The controversy 
turns not upon the ideal state of mankind, but upon 
the practical possibility of maintaining right without 
bloodshed. To some of us it seems idle to think that 
bloodshed can ever be prevented, or, indeed, that 
much good would be gained by its prevention, unless 
and until the spirit of strife and of self-aggrandisement 
is cast out by the spirit of beneficence. It is idle to 
expect that nations will voluntarily forego the objects 
of strife until the gradual working of the spirit of 
Christianity shall have thoroughly leavened the lump. 

But to this working we can all (women perhaps 
especially) contribute in our own lives and homes. 
Each one of us can throw some weight into the scale 
of simplicity and disinterestedness ; each one can, in 
some degree, lessen the pressure of the scramble for 
outward things in which the weak are trampled 

108 Thoughts on the Centred Radiance 

upon, by living for better things than can be bought 
with money. 

And lastly, we cannot separate one "testimony" 
from another without loss of power. The Christian 
life is one whole — a spirit which must have the 
dominion wherever it enters, and which grows by 
its victories over all that would hinder it. We must 
go down to the root in this matter before we can 
be set free. Selfishness will not be cured by lopping 
at the branches. The strong man armed will keep 
his goods in peace, till a stronger than he comes to 
set the captives free. But we can welcome this 
strongest of all influences ; we can open our hearts to 
the Deliverer, and yield all that is within us to His 
winnowing power. Where Christ enters, the love of 
the world is cast out. As soon might we expect a 
prisoner to cling to his chains, as that one whom 
Christ hath made free should wrap himself in weak- 
ening personal indulgences, or cumber himself with 
cares on an unnecessary scale, "holding treasures in 
the self-pleasing spirit," or "stretching beyond his 

Was there ever a time when the ancient testimony 
against cumbering possessions and the love of them 
was more sorely needed by the state of the world 
than it is now ? Not war only, but grinding poverty 
and its degrading results, call aloud to those who have 

War and Superfluities 109 

ears to hear for a fresh revolt against the bondage of 
self-indulgence, for a fresh uprising of the victory 
which overcometh the world, even our faith. Surely 
it should be matter of rejoicing to us all, that in the 
self-denying ordering of our lives and homes we can 
at once brace and strengthen our own spirits, and 
hold forth to our comrades the signal of victory, the 
pledge of the all-subduing power of Christ 

The testimony borne by Friends against all war 
has ever been a personal and practical, not a theo- 
retical, still less a sweepingly condemnatory one. 
The spirit which has freed many of them from all 
that leads to war, and has made them steadfastly 
refuse, at whatever cost of suffering, to take any part 
in it, is not a spirit which is ready to condemn others, 
or slow to acknowledge "any virtue or any praise"; 
it desires to judge righteous judgment or not to judge 
at all ; it is not discouraged by the slow growth of 
the Divine harvest ; the peace it seeks is not a mere 
international concord, such as may consist with, or 
even be based on, injustice, but the peace of God 
which is the fruit of righteousness ; and as regards 
those under a dispensation differing from its own, 
it rests in a quiet, often silent, dependence on " the 
universality of the grace of Christ" — the light that 
lighteneth every man that cometh into the world — 
redeeming and reproving according to what each one 

110 Thoughts on the Centred Radiance 

has received, not according to that which has not 
been made possible to him. 

To see this light, and to grow up into this blessed 
spirit, each one in our measure, we need only to be 
willing and obedient Our measure may as yet be a 
very small one, but the Light is a living seed in each 
heart, and must grow as it is obeyed — its growth no 
man can measure or limit ; the fulness of its glory no 
eye hath seen. 


The thought of loneliness strikes perhaps a colder 
chill, upon the youthful imagination especially, than 
that of death. This enemy cannot be encountered 
and vanquished in a moment of enthusiasm. It must 
be met in detail and in cold blood. It may mean 
years of gradual decay and failure. It is generally 
spoken of with a tinge even of blame, as something 
which no healthy mind would choose. Long ago it 
was said upon high authority that it was not good for 
man to be alone, and there is a sense in which 
experience certainly confirms the belief. 

Yet with one voice all those who have aimed at high 
attainments in the spiritual life have proclaimed the 
value, even the necessity, of solitude ; and for its use 
the highest possible examples may be quoted. Its 
very name has an austere charm, and recalls to us 
the memory of some of the moments we could least 
afford to lose out of our lives. 

1 An address given to the Sunday Society at Newnhaia 

112 Thoughts on the Centred Radkmce 

Obviously we need alternations of solitude and 
company as we need alternations of light and dark- 
ness, summer and winter, growth and decay. The 
practical problem is how to provide for the pre- 
servation of salutary proportions ; and this may be 
in some degree simplified by attention to the various 
senses in which it is possible to be " alone." 

Loneliness is certainly not identical with the mere 
absence of human beings. To be "alone in a crowd" 
is but too sadly familiar an experience. And pro- 
bably few of us, after early youth, are so happy 
as not to know the yet more awful aloneness which 
may fall upon us in the presence even of our best 
beloved, when some film of separation arises — a 
" little cloud " of prophetic significance. It may be 
the horror of sudden loneliness when a closely 
cherished sufferer, whose every word and look has 
long been our absorbing study, for the first time fails 
to recognise us — when our questions bring no reply, 
our most earnest assurances convey no comfort In 
a moment we are out of each other's reach — side by 
side still, but each unutterably alone. Or worse than 
this, in the fulness of life and health, and growing 
intimacy and joyful confidence, some careless word 
or look or action, forgotten perhaps by one in a 
moment, has revealed to the other a divergence 
which will not be deeper or crueller when it has 
spread into a chasm across which no voice can pass. 

Living Alone 113 

In cases like this it is perhaps but for a moment 
that we stay to dwell upon the sense of loneli- 
ness. The chasm, though deep, is narrow still, and 
we turn our eyes from it, and passionately fix 
them upon what yet remains to us — if by any means 
the gulf may be bridged over and all may yet be 

But such glimpses teach us something of the real 
essence of separation, which is of wide application. 
We meet each other in many different planes as well 
as at many points. Two human beings may be cut 
off from all interchange of word or thought (as for 
instance by the illness of one of them) while yet 
physically they are in each other's immediate presence, 
and fundamentally they are absolutely one in heart. 
The intermediate union is destroyed, while the most 
superficial and the deepest are alike intact. And 
surely when the separation, instead of being of the 
comparatively innocent kind which illness or death 
or absence can bring about, has in it the bitterness 
of wrong-doing, of lowered esteem, even of personal 
betrayal, we may yet take our stand upon something 
deeper than all these, — without which indeed these 
would soon destroy their own power to torture, — and 
hold firm to a love stronger than all human wilful- 
ness ; a love which grows by forgiveness ; a love 
nearer the foundations of our being than any of our 
judgments can reach. 

114 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

So far as we can penetrate into these hidden 
depths it would seem as if there could be no such 
thing as absolute loneliness. For we know nothing 
deeper than love ; and where perfect love is, loneliness 
like fear is for ever cast out. But these depths are 
hidden — happily and rightly hidden — from ordinary 
observation. It is no denial of their reality to say 
that in the process of firmly anchoring ourselves to 
them, we have to let go link after link of our connec- 
tion with our fellows ; to encounter cloud after cloud 
of what at any rate seems like separation, of what 
hides us from each other's comprehension. 

Vainly still we strive to mingle 

"With a being of our kind 
Vainly hearts with hearts are twined 

For the deepest still is single. 

We cannot be finally freed from loneliness except by 
encountering it. It will be subdued only by those 
who dare to meet it with a hearty embrace. 

We shape our own lives in a sort of underground, 
gradual, unconscious, piecemeal fashion. And in 
nothing do we mould them more largely and more 
blindly, than in the degree in which they are combined 
with other lives. Not only do we exercise some sort 
of choice — how much or how little is indeed a mystery 
— in the chief voluntary combination, that of mar- 
riage; but all through life we go on adding to or 
winnowing our stock of alliances, ties, friendships, 

Living Alone 115 

partnerships, tightening or relaxing our bonds as 
seems good and possible to us, and weaving for our 
souls a garment not less close and important to us 
than our physical frame. This process is carried on 
chiefly by rule of thumb ; and that rule is no doubt 
on the whole the best for the purpose. But one 
important distinction is often and sometimes dis- 
astrously forgotten. It is that between living in each 
other's presence and sharing each other's lives. 

It is vainly supposed that we can cure isolation 
by joining company. You might as well expect to 
melt pebbles by shaking them together in a bag. On 
the other hand it is equally idle to suppose that you 
can rid yourself of ties by withdrawing to a distance. 
You are just as likely to tighten them by absence, if 
they have any real hold to begin with. The fact is 
that our lives are shaped, in this as in other respects, 
largely by our own choice, but not by the choice of 
yesterday or to-day ; rather by that of years and 
years ago. We reap what we have sown ; not what 
we are sowing. We shape our own lives not only 
largely but blindly, and we judge blindly of each 
other's lives. 

Thus we talk of people as " living alone " merely 
because they occupy a separate dwelling, although 
their lives may be in fact crowded with human 
intercourse, and even with human presences, as well 
as perhaps closely bound up with many ties of kindred 


116 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

and affection. And we fail to recognise the depths 
of seclusion which others find in the very heart of a 
large family party. Indeed one of the great advan- 
tages of family life (I suppose I may add of college 
life ?) is that it affords a protection against the outer 
world — a means of retreat, a possibility of transacting 
social details by proxy. The solitary unit is exposed 
on all sides to the pressure of surrounding humanity, 
and must carry on all social transactions single 
handed ; while the studious member of a family is 
guarded on all sides, as by a living curtain, from any 
profane intrusion. Both need solitude, but perhaps 
the one who most needs to make an effort to secure 
it is the one who is generally supposed to be suffering 
from it. 

This misconception is partly owing to the baflling 
effect on the imagination of mere negatives. Nature 
may abhor a vacuum, but Fancy refuses to take the 
trouble of filling it. The life which has no familiar 
furniture will naturally be filled with something ; but 
most people are content to call it nothing. So-and- 
so has neither wife nor child — what can he possibly 
find to do with his money? Such an one has no 
household duties — how can she be too busy to attend 
to this or that for me ? One thing which all who live 
alone certainly need is the power — mainly I believe 
imaginative — to outline their own lives. And by this 
I mean the power of marking out distinctly the 

Living Alone 117 

channels into which one's energies should flow, and 
for which they should be reserved. People are but 
too ready to make demands on time and strength 
not obviously appropriated ; and without a distinct 
outline in one's own mind it is doubly hard not to 
yield to such demands. 

It is no wonder if the ordinary imagination fails 
to fill up the outline suggested by the words " living 
alone." They give it plenty of scope, but scanty 
nourishment, and it is apt to reflect their vagueness. 
Perhaps it is to this vagueness that some of the dread 
inspired by the idea of living alone is due, just as 
many people account for their fear of death as being 
a dread of " the unknown." People allow themselves 
to think of living alone as a fate not to be encountered, 
and even consider it as a sort of wrong-doing. It 
would surely be more reasonable to consider it wrong 
to dread any fate to which humanity is liable ; and 
isolation in some of its senses is obviously inevitable 
for some of us. The practical question is whether 
we shall regard it as a misfortune to be remedied to 
the utmost of our power and at all costs, or as a 
distinguishing circumstance to be accepted and turned 
to account. 

Let it be conceded at once that isolation in the 
sense of a failure to share in the interests and the 
concerns of others is a deplorable condition, which if 
lasting may be confidently traced to faulty or at best 

118 Thoughts on the Central Badicmce 

to feeble action, and which does call for remedy at 
all costs. But isolation in the sense of separateness 
from family ties is a condition from which no effort 
can always secure us. It is when this lot has fallen 
upon any one that he, or still more she, will be a 
mark for the arrows of advisers, nine out of ten of 
whom will urge the formation of artificial ties as a 
defence against loneliness. The advice being so 
generally proffered is no doubt generally acceptable 
and suitable. Yet for a (perhaps small but by no 
means insignificant) minority it would be a disastrous 
mistake to abandon a separate position. It is a 
position which has its advantages, both of immunity 
and of discipline. 

It is a strange sensation when one finds oneself 
for the first time entirely detached from surrounding 
lives. Apart from the sorrow in which such isolation 
in most cases originates, it has (or may have) in itself 
a certain unfamiliar charm. Indeed it is often the 
one thing which the sorely wounded human being, 
like the wounded animal, instinctively desires. To be 
relieved from all external pressure — freed from all 
observation — to be able to let the mind re-adjust 
itself to its altered circumstances without interference 
— these things are among the most essential aids to 
recovery. The employment of these natural remedies 
is pretty sure before long to excite suspicion and 
even disapprobation. Whether the human race is 

Living Alone 119 

jealous of its exclusion from the counsels of one poor 
suffering mortal, or is itself so emphatically gregarious 
that a solitary position shocks its deepest instincts, it 
is certain that it will very soon begin to make its 
protest felt in one form or another. Of course the 
protest, if disregarded, is very soon dropped. The 
world is far too busy to concern itself, for more than 
a moment, about the harmless lunatics who do nothing 
worse than disappear from it. An admonition or 
two, a gently affixed label of eccentricity, and the 
thing is done. And then begins the real experience 
of isolated existence — an experience hardly to be 
communicated, but yet not wholly indescribable. 

Perhaps its most marked quality is its liability to 
gentle expansion and contraction of parts — a kind of 
silent palpitating movement from within — which no 
doubt goes on in some degree wherever there is life, 
but becomes obvious only when the correcting 
pressure of other lives is removed. Here indeed lies 
the great danger of solitude. Small things may loom 
large, and great interests shrivel up into nothing, and 
there is no one present to redress the balance. 
Unless one can trust oneself to keep a firm hand 
upon this tendency, and learn to redress the balance 
for oneself, one had better not venture upon a lonely 
life. But experience seems to show that the balance 
has a tendency to redress itself, as the disturbance 
subsides. The process may be a slow one. When 

120 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

things have gone wrong, and some painful communi- 
cation has made an undue impression, which five 
minutes talk, or better still one hearty laugh, with 
the partner of one's existence would have set right, 
it may be hours or even days before the unassisted 
reason fully re-asserts itself, and reduces the whole 
thing to its true proportions. Yet this is an art, like 
any other, to be acquired by practice ; and the very 
necessity of performing the process without help 
forces upon one a certain dexterity in it. It must 
also be remembered that the effect of close ties is 
not exclusively sobering. There are trifles which 
loom large through the domestic atmosphere, almost 
as inevitably as others are magnified by the vapours 
of solitude. The hermit is impervious to many an 
arrow which scatters dismay among the flock And 
feeling may be echoed and re-echoed in sympathy 
until it is nursed up into something out of all 
proportion to its actual justification. From this 
danger at any rate the hermit is free. 

Of course there would be something odious and 
inhuman about the deliberate choice of a solitary 
life in preference to the more normal and more 
obviously fruitful conditions of family relationship. 
But such a deliberate preference is not in question. 
We are comparing the hermit's life, not with the 
natural family life, but with an artificial imitation of 
it. We are considering whether for those who 

Living Alone 121 

inevitably stand apart from any natural and ready- 
made ties it may not be wiser to use than to get rid 
of such an open space in the labyrinth of life. 

The Roman Catholic Church has always empha- 
sized the advantages of solitude, with that official 
stamp of definite outline which to some of us has the 
effect almost of caricature. We Protestants on the 
contrary recognise in some dim fashion that no 
outward condition can be an unmixed and absolute 
gain. It follows that none can be without its 
advantages for special purposes. We object to the 
arbitrary creation of disabilities ; but we need not 
therefore ignore the inevitable accidents — or as we 
may I believe truly call them, the Providential 
accidents — of life, or fear to turn them boldly to 
account. And the accident of separateness, if 
deliberately recognised and accepted, may serve as 
a setting apart for uses not less sacred than those 
which belong to any visible tie. 

"Stone walls do not a prison make" — nor do 
empty chambers make a lonely life. That there is in 
the human mind a power of making the " iron bars " 
of our cage into a hermitage, and the empty spaces 
around us into a sanctuary, we all instinctively feel ; 
but it needs some reflection to understand what is 
the spell by which such transformations are to be 
wrought ; and to evolve the fruitful use from the 
passive endurance of wintry conditions. Indeed we 

122 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

may have to practise much patient endurance before 

we arrive at fruitfulness ; but let us always keep 

fruitfulness before our minds as the ideal to be aimed 

at — let us steadfastly regard the wilderness as destined 

to blossom as a garden. 

Do you remember the words in which Browning 

describes the true uses of solitude as transfigured by 

woman's deepest love ? 

"Might I die last and show thee! Should I find 
Such hardship in the few years left behind 
If free to take my lamp and go 
Into thy tomb, and shut the door and sit 
Seeing thy face on those four sides of it 
The better that they are so blank, I know! 

Why time was what I wanted, to turn o'er 
Within my mind each look, get more and more 
JBy heart each word, too much to learn at first; 
And join thee all the fitter for the pause 
Neath the low lintel's doorway. That were cause 
For lingering though thou calledst, if I durst ! " 1 

Thus human love may grow even by outward 

separation. We talk sometimes as if our chief object 

must be to fill life with interests. For that it seems 

to me that we need hardly take thought. Life is for 

ever multiplying our interests. What we do need is 

the power of contemplation, including that of reducing 

the multitude of interesting matters to order. And 

this can never be done in a crowd or in a hurry. We 

must be alone — alone long enough to enter into some 

1 "Any Wife to any Husband." 

Living Alone 123 

degree of stillness — before we can see things in their 
true proportions and in due subordination. No 
lovely thing can have its full loveliness except in due 
subordination to that which is truly more important. 
And nothing can be altogether valueless when in its 
right place and right relation to other things. There- 
fore such solitude as is necessary for the falling into 
order of the various elements of our life is, I think, a 
real spiritual necessity. 

And here we touch the deepest, that is the 
religious, significance of solitude. Consciously or 
unconsciously, those who are athirst for the things 
which are unseen and eternal have always recognised 
the possibility of a rivalry between the human and 
the divine in our affections. From very early times 
and in many countries it has been felt that the 
absence of close human ties does open possibilities of 
self-devotion to the Divine not to be purchased at a 
lower price. There is I am sure truth at the bottom 
of this widely spread religious instinct ; but to 
explain or to define the limits of its truth would be 
equally beyond me. 

Of one thing I feel sure — that our deepest and 
purest sense of the love of God is nourished by, if 
not altogether derived from, our experience of human 
love ; and that wilfully to shut ourselves out from 
this most fruitful of all spiritual educations in the 
hope of learning more of the Divine life would be 

124 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

inevitably to defeat our own object. What we have 
to remember in this connection is that (as regards 
human love at any rate) it is not in the continual 
presence of its object that love gains most strength. 
Absence and silence play a part as important as sight 
and words in strengthening and in purifying our 
affections. The manner and the proportions in which 
these opposite elements — of presence and absence, 
speech and silence — must be combined and interwoven 
in order to the perfect ripening of human affections 
is as completely beyond our ken as the choice is 
usually beyond our reach. Our part is not to 
educate ourselves, but to make the most of the 
education provided for us. Keenly as we may feel 
the privation of close human ties, it would I think be 
a loss even more disastrous to be deprived of the 
broad field of inward solitude. 

What then are the special fruits to be reaped 
from solitude, or rather from a right use of it ? 

Here we must distinguish between inward and 
outward solitude. I do not know how far it is a 
peculiarity, but to my own mind human beings seem 
to be constructed in concentric layers like the coats 
of the onion. The difference between inward and 
outward is certainly not equally obvious to us all ; 
but I shall venture to assume the existence of these 
coats or layers, which whatever their real number 
may, for our purpose, be roughly divided into three 

Living Alone 125 

classes or regions — the central, the intermediate, and 
the superficial, — corresponding to our relations with 
the eternal, the human, and the material environ- 

The outermost layer of our being, which is cogni- 
sant of material things, becomes in solitude more 
vividly aware of its surroundings ; and suitable 
surroundings certainly help the sense of solitude — a 
hill-top, the sea-shore, or a wide moor or bogland being 
perhaps the most favourable to it. This outermost 
layer is of course very dependent on the visible 
presence or absence of our fellow-creatures, and it is 
a simple matter to say whether outwardly we are or 
are not alone. But when we begin to attend to what 
is experienced in the intermediate layer — below the 
surface as we say — we begin to be aware of the 
double meaning of solitude. In this region it is that 
we may be alone in a crowd. Here, as I began by 
saying, we may be alone in the very presence of our 
best beloved. Here also we may, on the other hand, 
whilst outwardly alone, be aware of a crowding of 
human relations from which we may wish, yet find it 
hard, to withdraw ourselves. A lonely life may mean 
a life of few affections, however deep and close may 
be the ties which bind us to the few ; or it may mean 
a life in which all relations, however many, are 
comparatively remote, — a life in which we stand as it 
were in a hollow central space, though our relations 

126 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

with other lives may be multiplied to the extent, or 
beyond the extent, of our power of reciprocation. 

Now our wealth or our poverty in this intermediate 
region — the region of the affections — is a matter very 
largely under our own control. Not of course that 
we can, at any given moment, change it by a mere 
effort of will, any more than we can in a moment 
make our gardens full or empty ; but that we reap as 
we have sown ; and that if our harvest is to be a good 
one we must not only sow, but water, — and weed 
Our heart-husbandry will no doubt often be thwarted 
by powers beyond our control, yet the accumulated 
result of care, whether in sowing or in weeding out, 
is practically as certain as that of any agricultural 
operations in the outer world Given a certain 
vividness of memory and imagination and a steady 
care in the cultivation of inner relations, and we need 
never in this region be altogether alone. For below 
the surface our friends are always ours, whether they 
be visibly with us or not. 

And not only does our wealth in this region 
depend largely on our own exertions in the cultivation 
of friendships, but we have over the inward presences 
of our friends a degree of control which I think we 
often fail to recognise. We can direct our attention 
to them till we endow them with a warmth and a 
vividness approaching that of visible presence. Or 
we can withdraw ourselves from them into what truly 

Living Alone 127 

deserves to be called inward solitude ; until the 
hollow space in which we live and move becomes an 
awful sanctuary. The power of thus suspending our 
intermediate activities and withdrawing into the 
stillness of the sanctuary is the very basis of prayer ; 
to cultivate it in a right measure is the very 
foundation of a devout habit of life ; and to under- 
stand wisdom in this matter has an importance which 
I think we can hardly over-estimate. 

It is assuredly for the sake of learning thus to 
withdraw into the inner sanctuary of our own hearts 
that the saints of all times have so valued outward 
solitude. And periods of outward solitude must 
always be an important help towards this attainment. 
We all have at least a germ of such power ; and 
where it is either by nature or through cultivation 
really vigorous, it may make us independent of 
outward solitude. There are those who in any 
company and under any circumstances can retire into 
that "secret place of the Most High" where they 
may "abide under the shadow of the Almighty." 

I said that I believe it supremely important for 
us to understand wisdom in this matter. This is as 
much as to say that it is not altogether an easy or a 
simple one. There is indeed a danger in any voluntary 
assumption of mental attitudes — on the one hand a 
danger of unreality and on the other a danger of 
over-straining the very mainspring of the soul. I 

128 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

believe it to be possible to play tricks with one's own 
mind, and to hypnotize oneself — certainly it is but 
too possible to deceive oneself. I am not urging the 
practice of inward solitude and silence as a duty 
(though for some of us 1 believe it is a duty), I wish 
rather to point out the nature of its function and the 
object in order to which it may be rightly and safely 

Speaking just now of different mental regions I 
said that the innermost region was that which corre- 
sponded to our relation to the Eternal. Certain it 
is that as we sink into the innermost depth of our 
own mind we become aware of the things which are 
unseen and eternal. If we are aware (and in speaking 
of these matters one has to say if at every turn, for 
here we are all out of our depth and here we can 
often but guess at each other's experience), if we are 
aware of having depths to sink into, we shall I believe 
find in this central region above all the balance in 
which the real weight and worth of things can be 
tried — what has been called the balance of the 
sanctuary. In the stillness of inward solitude things 
find their level almost of their own accord. Here 
we have that first condition for the use of either 
balance or compass — freedom from disturbance — 
the scales find their level, the needle settles down 
towards the pole, the supremacy of that which is 
truly supreme emerges from the confusions of time. 

Living Alone 129 

Here we learn as far as is possible to our fallible 
minds to "understand our errors" — at least to 
offer the prayer "cleanse Thou me from my secret 
faults." In short when we enter into the place of 
inward solitude, we find ourselves face to face with 
God — with " the High and Holy One that inhabiteth 
eternity" — and in the light of His countenance we 
see the true value and beauty of all the things of 
which our life is composed — especially the true value 
and beauty of our human affections. For as I have 
already said it is only in right subordination that any 
lovely thing can have its fuD beauty. It is only as 
seen from under the shadow of the Almighty, from 
that inner sanctuary in which His presence is 
supremely felt, that the glory of life can shine forth. 
It is when all things begin to fall into their right 
places as we ourselves come under the true judgment 
of conscience, enlightened in the stillness by the 
light of eternity, that all things are made new — all 
bitterness and wrath and passion fade and pass away 
as the shadows and the mists of night before the 
sunrise. Here "the light that never was on sea or 
land " brings out an order and a harmony undreamed 
of in the rush and turmoil of outward life. Of all 
the different lives we are leading it is the deepest 
which is most easily ignored and stifled — yet it is the 
deepest which gives the key to all the rest So 
far from there being of necessity any incompatibility, 

130 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

or even any rivalry, between the eternal things with 
which we acquaint ourselves in solitude and the 
lower joys and revelations of outward life, it is in the 
sanctuary alone that the key-note can be struck to 
which all life must be attuned if it is ever to become 
harmonious and beautiful It is there only that we 
enter into the full possession of those treasures of 
human love which neither moth nor rust can corrupt. 
The amount of solitude which is attainable or 
would be wholesome in the case of any individual life 
is a matter in which each of us must judge for 
himself. I would not, if I might, attempt to pre- 
scribe in this matter for any human being but myself 
— and I feel that it needs much wisdom to minister 
even to oneself in regard to it. But I also feel sure 
that a due proportion — whether it be little or much 
— a due proportion of solitude is one of the most 
important conditions of mental health. Therefore 
(to return to our original problem) if it be our lot 
to stand apart from those close natural ties by which 
life is for most people shaped and filled, let us not be 
in haste to fill the gap ; let us not carelessly or rashly 
throw away the opportunity of entering into that 
deeper and more continual acquaintance with the 
unseen and eternal things which is the natural and 
great compensation for the loss of easier joys. The 
loneliness which we rightly dread is not the absence 
of human faces and voices — it is the absence of love. 

Living Alone 131 

And love is a plant vigorous enough to thrive on 
all soils ; taking a new beauty from the rocky uplands 
as well as from the rich and sheltered pastures. Love 
can thrive and grow strong by absence as well as by 
presence. I believe it does best with alternations of 
ease and difficulty. At any rate it is clear that we 
have to prepare for and to contend with a great 
variety of outward conditions. Our wisdom therefore 
must lie in learning not to shrink from anything that 
may be in store for us, but so to grasp the master 
key of life as to be able to turn everything to good 
and fruitful account. 

All love in its measure casts out loneliness. The 
supreme Love of God casts it out absolutely and for 



The unbounded freedom with which all kinds of 
speculations in religion, theology, and philosophy are 
now carried on, and which to many of us appears to 
be, like the freshness of the air, a condition to be 
sacredly maintained, has yet to be purchased at no 
small price of occasional trouble and even bewilder- 
ment of mind in the case of readers intelligent enough 
to be keenly interested in the many conflicting views 
put before them, yet not so fully trained and equipped 
by appropriate studies as to be able to deal with them 
thoroughly and satisfactorily. Many of us who are in 
this sense strictly speaking unlearned have no doubt 
at times forsworn all further dabbling in the great 
familiar impassable morasses — and yet have returned, 
either deliberately or involuntarily, if not ourselves 
to plunge in, yet at least to watch, as from the banks, 
the performances of the experts who can not only 
move freely, but wrestle with one another, in the 
midst of the morass. Is our doing so a mere waste 
1 A paper read to the St Paul's Association, Cambridge. 

The Faith of the Unlearned 133 

of time, or at best a mere amusement, and perhaps 

a dangerous one at that? or is it possible for the 

unlearned to gain something for themselves, and 

perhaps even for others, from studies with which 

they are mainly concerned only as bystanders, not 

being entitled to the name of serious students ? Is 

it safe for such bystanders to look on at controversies 

which are apt to be disturbing in proportion to their 

interest, and in watching which it is so difficult for 

outsiders to judge of the competence of those who 

offer themselves as guides? 

Some of us have been daunted and warned off 

altogether from those regions of thought which most 

powerfully attract us by the declarations of our 

teachers themselves that the great questions on 

which they are engaged will never be answered — 

some even adding that it would not make much 

difference if they were ; and quoting perhaps the 


" Myself when young did eagerly frequent 
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument 
About it and about ; but evermore 
Came out by the same door where in I went." 

But life is so interwoven that it is impossible to 
fence off the part of it which belongs to practice and 
rule of thumb from that in which the influence of 
abstract speculation is perceptibly powerful We 
feel instinctively that there is no part of our life and 

134 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

conduct which is not in some way raised or lowered 
by the attitude of those who in however impersonal 
and remote and fragmentary a way are allowed to 
guide our thoughts in the region of first principles. 
In this sense the "great argument about it and 
about" does immediately concern us all. 

To us lookers on, the disputes of the learned bear 
all the appearance of a battle, and it is hard for us 
to be sure how much or how little is really at stake. 
We cannot always tell whether the difference between 
the combatants relates to facts, or only to the best 
way of stating or of accounting for them. Take for 
instance the perennial fate and freewill controversy. 
The untrained mind wholly refuses to believe that it 
makes no difference whether we call our will "free" 
or not ; whether we do or do not recognise an all 
pervading necessity. We may remind ourselves 
again and again that our power to do or to abstain 
from doing particular acts is not being maintained 
by one disputant or surrendered by the other ; but 
that this power and its conditions being what they 
are, the disputants on both sides must aim at making 
their theories square with them. Irresistibly the 
imagination regards the champions of freewill as 
striving to enfranchise the human race, and attributes 
to the Necessitarian a nefarious inclination to bind or 
paralyse it, — or worse still to palliate wrong. Again it 
is hard for the untrained to give as much credit for 

The Faith of the Unlearned 135 

disinterestedness to the utilitarian as to the intui- 
tionist. I do not venture to guess whether there is 
any, and if so how much, justification in fact for such 
rough and ready characterisations of the tendencies 
attributed by the popular judgment to particular 
schools of thought. But the fact that thought is for 
the majority thus steeped in feeling and in ethical 
significance seems to point to the justification of 
that insatiable appetite which some of us feel for 
the very crumbs which fall from the table of philo- 
sophy. There must we think surely be some truth in 
the popular notion that the great questions which have 
so powerful and so permanent a grasp of the keenest 
intellects must be worth all the struggles of which 
philosophy is the record. It cannot be that nothing 
would be changed for practical purposes by a real 
decision between the determinists and the indeter- 
minists could such a decision ever be arrived at. 
Whether this be a true instinct or a mere popular 
delusion, the ineradicable expectation of help from 
such decisions powerfully attracts many of us towards 
whatever parts of the subject may be within our 
reach, and for reading about which we can command 
sufficient leisure. 

And here of course we have to consider what is 
the object which we may reasonably hope to attain 
by looking on at such controversies. I say nothing 
of the educational value of serious studies in philo- 

136 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

sophy. The unlearned for whom and as one of 
whom I write are precisely not students. They are 
only people who keenly feel, and sometimes yield to, 
the attraction of metaphysical or ethical problems 
obviously beyond their power fully to grasp. I think 
I may safely assume that a natural gift for the studies 
in question checks rather than stimulates the inclina- 
tion to plunge out of one's depth ; at any rate this 
inclination is certainly rebuked and kept in check 
by familiarity with any high standard of intellectual 

The faculty of asking questions however does not 
appear to depend upon anything deserving the name 
of study. Even a child can perceive, as well as the 
most learned, the general bearing of certain lines of 
thought. We do not wait for learning before 
beginning to ask whence and whither? or why? The 
importance of having a right and clear answer to 
such questions as what is the meaning of Good, or of 
Ought ? may be as clearly felt by the babe as by the 
prophet. Thoughtful children ask these questions 
long before they have so much as heard the names 
of the great teachers who for so many ages have 
wrestled with them. Indeed the power of asking 
questions which goes for so much in every kind of 
study seems to come by nature ; and it may be 
important not to hurry over this earliest stage of the 
educational process. There is something in the first- 

The Faith of the Unlearned 137 

hand experience whence these questions arise which 
no amount of study of the thoughts of others can 
supply ; however essential to ultimate clearness may 
be the corrections which learning alone can provide. 
I believe that the possibility of our making any 
fruitful use of such smatterings of philosophy as we 
can pick up from the flood of speculation surrounding 
us all in these days depends on our having made 
some genuine attempt, however humble, to think for 
ourselves ; to construct out of our own actual 
experience some sort of creed If we have in our 
minds a real framework, be it ever so small, of 
positive thought, we shall certainly find in whatever 
books really interest us, even though we may be far 
from fully mastering their contents, some materials 
with which to carry on our nest-building — some fact 
or theory which we do understand, and for which 
there is a place in the growing structure. And the 
process of adjusting the new and the old will supply 
some rough kind of test of the value of what we pick 
up. Some such edifice, constructed with our best 
powers of thought and of observation, we must 
certainly have if other people's thoughts are to be to 
us anything more than momentary playthings. The 
trouble is that other people's thoughts are apt to act 
the part of the scriptural patch of new cloth on an 
old garment, whereby "the rent is made worse." 
Our home-grown theories are often sorely confused, 

138 Thoughts on the Centred Radiance 

if not shattered, by the additions we think to make 
to them out of our neighbours' richer store. 

Again we must ask ourselves, What is our aim ? 
and what are we prepared to sacrifice in our pursuit 
of truth? 

The faith by which our souls live is a very different 
thing from any theological or philosophical system, 
be it ever so perfect. It is not to be attained at 
second-hand, or by the teaching of others. It is the 
immediate outcome of experience. The deepest and 
most elementary of all experiences is the love of 
God ; — that supreme love which is unlike all other 
loves, not only in its strength but in its quality — 
which is kindled in our hearts by Him who is Love. 
If we have tasted this in ever so small a degree we 
know what it is to be in Heaven. We know also 
what it is to be in purgatory. For that which reveals 
to us the glory of God reveals to us also the misery 
of man — the reality of a redeeming Power — and the 
blessedness of yielding ourselves even to its purifying 

Now it is obvious that faith in this sense — this 
resolute trust — is a thing entirely apart from specula- 
tive thought The question before us is how far and 
in what manner the two things affect one another. 
Believing as I do that faith is insight penetrating to 
the very rock on which all truth is built, I cannot 
doubt that its possession sheds a unique light on the 

The Faith of the Unlearned 139 

whole region of thought and speculation. But the 
question with which at this moment we are specially 
engaged is not how faith may illuminate thought, but 
how thought may affect faith. 

If it be true that faith penetrates to the founda- 
tions of all truth, thought in so far as it is true 
must ultimately confirm faith. But thought being a 
process of growth and of continual change, to which 
the functions of sifting and testing are essential, will 
of course at times seem to individuals to bar the way 
to any sanctuary of the spirit. Thought not only 
may but must question the reality of all things — of 
nothing so earnestly as of the most important things. 
There is a great cost to be counted before entering 
upon so vast and so arduous an undertaking as that 
of examining for ourselves the intellectual founda- 
tions of the religious belief in which we have grown 
up. For the learned it must be a severe, probably a 
life-long task. For the unlearned it is obviously an 
impossibility to grapple at first hand with the whole 
subject. The very act of doing so implies learning. 

But while contenting ourselves through an obvious 
necessity with what is not only a bird's eye view 
(that is a very remote and rudimentary view) of 
things, but largely second-hand at that, we yet feel 
the need of some preparation for meeting the direct 
attacks which may be made by thought on even the 
most elementary religious belief ; some position not 

140 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

the less firm for its limitations which we can honestly 
hold against all comers. 

In the recognition of this position thought itself 
can help us. We shall do well to arm ourselves 
against attacks by the habit of thinking, as clearly 
and as strenuously as may be, for ourselves. Hard 
thinking helps, as much as hasty miscellaneous reading 
hinders, the formation of solid convictions. Such 
thought will assuredly tend to make clear to us the 
distinction between first-hand experience and second- 
hand interpretations of experience. The typical 
utterance of a faith knowing itself to be unlearned, 
but at the same time clearly recognising the first- 
hand nature and the evidential value of its own 
experience, is "whereas I was blind, now I see." 
" Whether this man be a sinner I know not ; one thing 

I know he hath opened mine eyes." The blind 

man's cure was a fact within his own experience, and 
he was not only spiritually but logically justified in 
refusing to be deprived of it by any reasonings as to 
the impossibility of its having been wrought by one 
whom the authorities condemned. It is true that our 
experience is not all of so striking and unmistakeable 
a kind as this sudden change from darkness to light. 
Some of us have been tempted almost to envy the 
prodigal son and the lost sheep for the vividness of 
the contrast between past and present which leaves 
them no room to doubt of the reality of their con- 

The Faith of the Unlearned 141 

Tension. Yet it remains true that it is on our own 
experience, be it what it may, that we must take our 
stand in regard to the faith by which we are to live. 

There is such a thing (thanks be where they are 
due for that truth), there is such a thing as a revela- 
tion to babes. If we had to choose between that 
revelation on the one hand and wisdom and prudence 
on the other, no one surely who has had a glimpse of 
revelation would hesitate to let wisdom and prudence 
go. But God's best gifts are not thus mutually de- 
structive. The child-like element to which revelation 
addresses itself lies deep in all our hearts — in none 
deeper than in those of the poet and the philosopher. 
What we have to do is to hold fast that which we 
know by actual experience, letting those explain it 
who can, and letting it influence our thought as it 
may and should ; but above all " pondering in our 
hearts" the things which have been shown to us 
immediately. Faith is the grasp of the soul on the 
innermost Central Reality, and to relax it because 
thinkers are not agreed, or because we cannot under- 
stand what they say, as to the nature of Reality, 
would be folly indeed. 

How far, when we have had such inward experience 
as makes us to our own consciousness independent of 
much speculative thought, it may yet be wise to listen 
to the many voices offering more or less contradictory 
explanations of the unseen things and of our relation 

142 Thoughts on the- Central Radicmee 

to them, is a difficult question. That which is most 
precious to us as strangers and pilgrims is not a 
correct system of thought, but a steadying and 
guiding power, a grasp of something vivifying and 
satisfying to our innermost needs. Are we endanger- 
ing this guidance and control by not shutting out all 
that might disturb our thought of it? 

In a certain sense I think it must be admitted 
that we a/re running some risk of a distraction which 
for us may mean defeat, when we lay our minds open 
to suggestions from all quarters as to the direction 
of "the path of life." The princess in the Arabian 
Nights who stopped her ears with wool against the 
distracting voices which assailed her in her quest of 
the singing fountain was justified by success. And 
so perhaps may some of us be justified in turning a 
deaf ear to the voice of the philosopher, the critic, or 
the speculative thinker, whose thoughts confuse and 
discourage us. 

But there are others who feel, and I think rightly, 
that whatever limits may be set to our range of 
thought by want of time or of capacity, the voluntary 
exclusion of disturbing influences is a very dangerous 
resource. Sincerity forbids us so to pick and choose 
as to read only what we know will serve to strengthen 
our foregone conclusions. We need a better principle 
of selection than the mere desire to avoid disturbance. 
The experience of some of us does conclusively prove, 

The Faith of the Unlearned 143 

to ourselves at any rate, that disturbance by the 
thoughts of others is one of the most fertilising and 
purifying processes to which our own thought can be 
subjected. It is by the shaking of what is shakeable 
and the sifting of what is mixed that the residuum is 
tested and guaranteed. And we learn sooner or 
later that if we have but a germ of the faith which 
means a real anchorage of the soul, the shattering of 
successive outlines and boundaries of belief does but 
throw us back with a firmer confidence upon an ever- 
widening foundation of trust. 

For this foundation is not a mere system of 
doctrines. What it really consists of is a question 
I cannot attempt to grapple with theoretically. 
Heart and mind and will must certainly all contribute 
to it. In these days we hear much about " the will 
to believe.'' The words have to old-fashioned ears a 
suspected sound ; yet they may not therefore be the 
less valuable. But that the will to seeJe, and the will 
to obey, must enter into that faith by which alone 
the soul can live, seems to me as plain as daylight. 
And of this resolve nothing outward can deprive us. 
We do I think more or less deprive ourselves of it 
when we hug our own idea of "orthodoxy" instead 
of boldly and trustfully welcoming the light which 
reaches us from all quarters and resolutely acting in 
obedience to it. Light cannot contradict itself, nor 
can the radiance reflected from all earthly objects 

144 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

check the direct inshining into the heart and con- 
science from the Central Source of Light itself. 

If however we enter with an open mind into as 
much as we can understand of philosophy, we must 
indeed be prepared for many changes in our thoughts 
— in the outline and form, that is, of our religious 
belief. My point is that such changes if honestly 
and carefully made will be in favour of truth, and 
cannot injure the root of faith. A living root must 
profit by whatever gives it room to grow. And the 
root of faith is not any article of belief, however 
axiomatic, but the resolve of the spirit to cleave to 
what is Highest and Best. That Highest and Best 
does not vary with the variety of human opinions 
regarding it. It is there, be its name and its nature 
what they may. The spirit bent on rising cannot be 
deprived of the means of rising, since for such "defeat 
itself is victory." Every fool's paradise given up for 
truth's sake means a fetter struck off from the Life. 
What can never be struck off, or need to be sacrificed 
for truth's sake, is devotion to the Most High. The 
more that devotion triumphs over seeming contradic- 
tions and the more it absorbs into itself of contrasting 
experiences, the richer and deeper and more broadly 
based is our faith Contradiction — even in some 
cases unspoken contradiction — may be a very severe 
discipline ; but it braces the mind as gymnastic 
exercises brace the muscles. Of course miscellaneous 

, The Faith of the Unlearned 145 

philosophical reading may have all the dangers of 
unregulated gymnastics ; and speculation however well 
regulated may divert the mind from deeper and more 
important functions. We must always remember 
that its office is not to provide a basis for our faith ; 
that peace of mind can never be attained by answer- 
ing questions ; and that what does not rest upon 
argument cannot be at the mercy of argument. Souls 
are redeemed not by study but by self-devotion — in 
other words by cross-bearing. For this none of us 
can lack opportunity. 

Whatever enriches our own faith and clears away 
some confusions from our thoughts must be of value 
for the purposes of intercourse with others. The 
deepest questions of philosophy being in these days 
discussed in so broad-cast a fashion, it would seem to 
be a selfish, as well as — for ourselves — a dangerous, 
thing to turn our minds altogether away from them. 
It is surely good to come out into the open, if only 
that we may help to disprove the notion that a rigid 
fixity of theological opinion is necessary to a living 
faith. We hear a great deal in these days of the 
need for a reconstruction of doctrines. It seems 
to me that we need more urgently a reconsideration 
of the place assigned to doctrines. If instead of 
trying to find new expressions for old thoughts, we 
were frankly and humbly willing to acknowledge our 
ignorance, and to recognise how different a thing is 

s. 10 

146 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

that devotion to the Most High by which our souls 
live from the forms of words by which it has from 
time to time been sought to convey or to fix a 
knowledge of the Highest, we should I think be 
wiser, calmer, and more helpful to each other. 

It is as we vacillate between the two attitudes — 
the attitude of child-like faith seeking conscious 
unity with the Highest, and the attitude of philosophy 
seeking to understand the nature of unity and of the 
Highest, — that we fall into confusion and loss. Philo- 
sophy and Religion do not contradict one another ; 
but they speak different languages. That of Philo- 
sophy is hard to acquire and seeks the utmost 
precision ; that of Religion is at once simple and 
unfathomable, shining by its own light, and seeking 
not precision but power. 

The faith " revealed to babes " is emphatically the 
spirit of trust ; its utterance is " though He slay me 
yet will I trust Him." And its symbol is the Cross. 
It is this spirit of trust which enables those who have 
it " out of weakness to be made strong " ; to bear 
without flinching, with undisturbed serenity, it may 
be even with a rapture of joy unspeakable, whatever 
comes to us from the Father's hand ; and which as 
from His hand receives whatever befalls it. This 
faith we have all seen in exercise where there was no 
knowledge, and no capacity for the understanding, of 
abstract thought. It needs only sorrow, pain and 

The Faith of the Urilecumed 147 

trial to bring out its brightness. Thought is well 
exercised in enquiring into its nature and its justifica- 
tion ; and thought also may serve to qualify those 
who have any experience of it for bearing a wider 
and clearer witness of it than is in the power of the 
uneducated. Thought may serve the purposes of 
faith ; it can never either produce or refute it. The 
only injury that thought can do to faith is I believe 
that of usurping its place ; beguiling the soul away 
from the region of contemplation and resolve into 
that of controversy. This is I think a very real and 
serious danger in the present phase of widespread 
interest in the multitude of questions of speculative 
and practical importance which are being presented 
on all hands in popular and attractive language. 

If this be so, it becomes a matter of some 
importance to consider what is really meant by 
contemplation. The word covers many possible states 
of mind For our present purpose I do not wish to 
use it in the sense of that rapturous absorption in 
the " mere unexpanded thought of the eternal God " 
which is perhaps its innermost and deepest significa- 
tion. I am thinking rather of the steady pondering 
which is needed for the full comprehension of any 
fundamental truth. We are all in danger of suffering 
loss by allowing ourselves to be hurried from topic to 
topic, beguiled into hasty and impatient handling of 
problems deep enough to demand if not to baffle our 


148 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

gravest thought. This is a snare especially besetting 
the unlearned, and here we who are not students in 
any serious sense may learn wisdom from those who 
are so. No one can hope to master enough of any 
real study even to pass (say) an examination for 
honours at a University without the deliberate 
devotion to it of a very considerable amount of 
undisturbed time, and for the study of philosophy in 
good earnest a lifetime of course is but very short. 
But people will allow their faith to be shaken and 
their whole views of life to be influenced and perhaps 
irretrievably lowered by casual dippings into magazine 
articles, or by the skimming of brilliant and cynical 
books recommended as "interesting" by the last 
visitor, without a thought of the time and the patience 
which would be required to qualify themselves for 
forming an intelligent opinion on the merits of any 
one of the questions discussed. 

It does seem to me to be a matter of great 
importance that we should honestly and seriously 
consider where we stand with regard to philosophy ; 
whether we are in fact qualified to grapple at all 
with its problems, and whether by merely playing 
with them we may not be disqualifying ourselves for 
looking at life steadily and sanely from the quite 
equally legitimate standpoint of the unlearned but 
not inexperienced human spirit. If the unlearned 
must be content to leave many interesting questions 

The Faith of the Unlearned 149 

entirely on one side, they have the not trifling 
compensation of being able to leave much feeling 
unanalysed. Serious students of philosophy must be 
ready to analyse everything, and must of necessity 
spend the greater part of their brain-power on 
abstractions. We who are not students at all may 
hold fast to the contemplation of concrete and living 
examples of whatever interests or attracts us. At 
any rate, as regards our own intimate and sacred 
religious experience, there is real blessing in being 
able to dwell upon its teachings without the perpetual 
endeavour to reduce its intellectual elements into 
distinct propositions, and to weigh the evidence for 
and against each of these in logical scales. We must 
not object to such weighing and sifting in itself. But 
we do well to recognise that such work belongs only 
to those specially trained for it ; and to take our 
stand boldly and humbly upon the ground not of 
skilled reasoning but of first-hand experience. The 
unlearned are but too ready to exaggerate the value 
of dialectical skill, and to make feeble and ineffectual 
attempts to use it, instead of trusting their own 
mother- wit, and clearly limiting themselves to matters 
within their own competence. I cannot say how 
grievous seems to me the mistake of letting ambitious 
attempts to understand usurp the place of simple 
and resolute determination to trust. 

For trusting, though the simplest and the most 

150 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

fitting for the ignorant of all mental attitudes, is yet 
no mere passive leaning on others. The trusting 
which is another name for faith, is an active principle 
of obedience, to be carried out in every detail of our 
daily life. It belongs in a peculiar manner to that 
child-like heart which learning neither gives nor 
takes away, but which the frivolous playing with 
deep matters is certain to mislead And we may be 
misled, and beguiled of all the joy of obedience by 
getting out of our depth, — not always through frivolity, 
but often through mere want of understanding of the 
danger. This is why I so greatly desire that we who 
cannot claim to be serious students of philosophy 
may at least have a sufficient sense of what that 
claim implies to know our own place apart from it, 
and to make the most of the advantages belonging to 
that place, which if low is at any rate safe. 


We add a strange bitterness to the last parting, 
inasmuch as upon so many of the subjects relating to 
it we doom ourselves to a sort of anticipated loneliness. 
Few of us have the courage to speak quietly and 
freely of our own prospects of mortality with those 
nearest and dearest to us. Tenderness and custom 
combine to seal our lips ; and there grows up a habit 
of reserve which we scarcely wish to break through. 
Yet the veil of habitual silence which we throw over 
death, as concerning ourselves, adds to that sense of 
mystery and dullness which it were surely wiser as 
far as may be to dispel than to increase. Each of us 
must die alone ; but we need not encounter the fear 
of death alone. 

How far is it true to say that the fear of death is 
a natural and universal instinct ? or rather to what 
extent does the instinctive fear of it prevail among 
ourselves ? The very reserve of which I have spoken 
makes it impossible to answer with any confidence. 

152 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

If such reserve may be taken as an indication of 
shrinking from a painful subject, this shrinking would 
appear to be much less strong among the poor than 
the rich. Their outspokenness with respect to their 
own approaching death, or that of parents or children 
whom they may be nursing with the utmost tender- 
ness, is very startling to unaccustomed ears, and 
might almost suggest indifference, had we not ample 
reason to know that it is compatible not only with 
tender affection but with deep and lasting sorrow for 
the very loss of which by anticipation they spoke 
so unhesitatingly. No doubt all habits of reserve 
imply more or less of the power of self-control, 
which is so largely dependent upon education ; but 
there would seem to be also a real difference of 
feeling between rich and poor about death Perhaps 
their habitual plainness of speech about it may 
contribute towards lessening the fear of it among 
them. But there is an obvious and deeply pathetic 
explanation of their calmness in the prospect of it 
for themselves or for those dearest to them. The 
hardness and bareness of life lessens its hold upon 
them ; sometimes even makes them feel it not an 
inheritance to be coveted for their children. The 
dull resignation with which they often say the little 
ones are " better off" when they die, tells a grievous 
story of the struggle for mere existence ; while the 
simplicity of their faith in the unseen is equally 

The Fear of Death 153 

striking in its cheerful beauty. Both habits of mind 
tend to diminish the fear of death itself, as well as 
the unwillingness to speak of it which belongs to 
more complicated states of feeling and more luxurious 
habits of life. 

It is of course impossible fully to distinguish be- 
tween the fear of death, and the fear of that which 
may come after death ; and this is not the place for 
fully considering the grounds of the latter fear. But 
our feeling about the great change is assuredly 
composed of many elements, and the nature of our 
expectation of another life is by no means the only 
thing which makes death more or less welcome. We 
do not probably at all fully realise how wide is the 
range of possible feeling about this life, making our 
anticipations of its ending as many-tinted almost as 
those with which we contemplate the hereafter. We 
tacitly agree in common conversation to avoid the 
subject as it concerns ourselves and our interlocutors, 
and in speaking of others we make it a point of good 
manners to refer to it as matter of regret ; while 
religious books and sermons always assume that the 
King of Terrors can be encountered with calmness 
only by the aid of that faith which they preach. 
But is it really the case that apart from the terrors of 
religion and the courtesies of feeling, the end of life 
would always be unwelcome in its approach to our- 
selves and to others ? Is there inherent in all of us 

154 Thoughts on the Centred Radiance 

a universal craving to prolong the term of this 
sublunary existence, and to prevent the loosening 
of any of its ties ? 

We may be pretty sure that there is some 
foundation in reason for any strongly prevalent 
manipulation of feeling. It is easy to see how this 
particular practice has grown up ; but it does seem to 
have passed the limit of sincerity, and therefore of 
wholesomeness. Even if we may not speak freely, it 
must be well to think truly in a matter of such deep 
and frequent concern ; and it can surely be no true 
part of religion to deepen the natural opposition of 
feeling to the lot which is appointed to alL 

One of the great distinctions which the voluntary 
assumption of mourning tends to obliterate is that 
between timely and untimely deaths. There is no 
doubt a sense in which to the eye of faith no death can 
be untimely, but this is as distinctly a matter of faith 
as the blessedness of pain. Faith may discern a Tight- 
ness in the cutting short of the young life, as in all 
forms of suffering and affliction ; but though faith 
may be able to surmount all obstacles, neither faith 
nor reason can profit by our ignoring the natural 
inequalities of the ground. Some deaths are not in 
any true sense afflictions ; and to say so need imply 
no disrespect, — nay it may convey the very highest 
testimony, to the departed. We speak of survivors as 
mourners, till we forget that there are survivors who, 

The Fear of Death 155 

in place of mourning, may for very love be filled with 
a solemn joy in the completed course to which added 
length of days could scarcely have added either 
beauty or dignity. When we allow ourselves to 
think of the reality rather than of the mere con- 
ventional description of the event, it seems wonderful 
that we should have only one word with which to 
speak of the completion and of the destruction of a 
human lifetime ; only one word for the event which 
closes the long day's toil, and for that which crashes 
like a thunderbolt into the opening blossom of family 
life ; for that which makes and that which ends 
widowhood ; for the final fulfilment or reversal of all 
our temporal hopes ; for bereavement and for reunion. 
It is true that in one sense it is " one event " which 
befalls in all these cases, but the feelings belonging 
to it have as wide a range of colour as the sunset 
clouds. Need we wrap them all in the same thick 
veil of gloomy language and ceremonial ? 

At any rate, the feelings with which we con- 
template the termination of our own earthly life 
must vary indefinitely in different individuals, and 
in the same individual at different times ; and it 
would be a matter of deep interest to compare our 
respective experiences if we could bring ourselves to 
do so. 

It is sometimes said that no one can tell what his 
own feeling about death would be, until he has been 

156 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

brought face to face with it. This is no doubt true ; 
but it is also true that the feelings with which we 
regard it from a distance vary as much as those with 
which we should meet its near approach, and that 
the former are more important to our welfare than 
the latter. To be "through fear of death all their 
lifetime subject to bondage," is a heavy burden, and 
I believe not an uncommon one. Generalising from 
the scanty materials gleaned by one ordinary observer, 
I believe that the purely instinctive fear is strongest 
in people of a very high degree of vitality ; it is the 
shadow cast by intense love of life, and seems to 
depend in a great measure upon a certain kind of 
physical vigour. This may be one explanation of the 
strange and beautiful way in which the fear of death 
so often disappears as the event itself approaches ; the 
weakened frame does not shrink from the final touch 
of that decay which has already insensibly loosened 
its hold upon life. Professional observers speak of 
cases in which the fear of dying is active to the last 
as being extremely rare ; it should probably be 
considered as a physical indication of vitality. For 
the same reason, perhaps, the fear of death is often 
comparatively slight in early youth, before the 
constitution has reached its full vigour, and before 
the habit of living has been very firmly established. 
At the same time, the very energy and buoyancy of a 
perfectly vigorous physical organisation help to dispel 

The Fear of Death 157 

or to neutralise painful impressions ; so that although 
the idea of death may be more naturally abhorrent 
to the strong than to the weak, they may be less 
habitually oppressed by the thoughts of it. 

There also seems to be a deep, though obscure, 
connection between the wish and the power to live. 
Physicians and nurses have strange stories to tell of 
cases in which a strong motive for living has seemed 
sufficient to recall patients from the very grasp of 
death. Sometimes the mere assurance, given with a 
confident manner if a doubting heart, that recovery 
is possible, seems to give strength to rally and may 
turn the scale in favour of life. For this reason, 
amongst others, medical men are generally extremely 
unwilling to tell patients that there is no hope. There 
are cases on record in which such an announcement, 
though voluntarily elicited and met with perfect 
apparent calmness, has seemed to sap the strength 
in a moment and cause a sudden and rapid sinking. 
It is perhaps some physical instinct of self-preserva- 
tion, rather than any want of courage, which makes 
some sick people so carefully shun all opportunities 
for any such communication. The curious physical 
results of mental expectation make it often most 
inexpedient for the sick to know all that is known to 
others about their state ; and perhaps only those who 
have lived long in sick rooms can fully appreciate 
the blessing to the watchers of having to do with a 

158 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

patient who neither anxiously questions nor fears to 
hear or to speak the plain truth, making it clear that 
to him the question of life or death is not one of 
overmastering importance. To be able, while the 
bodily life is trembling in the balance, to look beyond 
it in undisturbed serenity, is not only to be in the 
condition most favourable to health and happiness, it 
is to radiate strength and courage to all around And 
some such influence, though in a more diffused and 
less perceptible form, is exercised during health by 
those who do not shrink from the prospect of death 

Perfect serenity in regard to death is not to be 
attained by any effort of the will, nor by any mere 
process of reasoning ; it is rather the result of a 
happy combination of bodily and mental conditions. 
The chief of these conditions, the assured hope of a 
future beyond the grave in comparison of which the 
brightest earthly visions fade like a candle before the 
dawn, is not given to all ; and in these days especially, 
it is for many overshadowed, if not altogether blotted 
out, by doubts and questionings which can no longer 
be hidden from the multitude. Even to those who 
most earnestly cling to the hope of immortality, it 
would seem that our troublous inheritance of sym- 
pathy must cast many a distressing side-light upon 
prospects in which of old the faithful were able to 
take undisturbed delight. However this may be, the 
mere prospect of prolonged existence beyond the 

The Fear of Death 159 

grave, apart from other reasons for joyful confidence, 
must be taken rather as enlarging the scope of our 
hopes and of our fears than as necessarily altering 
the balance between them. Habitual hopefulness 
may colour the prospect beyond the grave with the 
same glowing tints which it throws over this world, 
so that in some cases the same cause which makes 
life delightful makes death not unwelcome. Such a 
state of mind, though rare, is not unknown. But 
perhaps a perfect balance of feeling is more readily 
to be found at a lower level of expectation. 

It may be one of the natural compensations for a 
comparatively low degree of vitality that, in thinking 
of death, the idea of rest predominates over that of 
loss, so that there is no alloy of pain in the reflection 
that none of the troubles of this life can be more 
than passing clouds ; that for each one of us " the 
Shadow sits and waits " ; that the burden of life, 
however heavy, must drop off at last ; and that none 
can say how near to anyone may be the final relief 
from all its evils. Weariness of mere existence is a 
heavy, and probably a very common, secret burden ; 
one which makes the thought of annihilation more 
attractive to some of us than any celestial visions. 
Those who suffer from it would not welcome the 
brightest prospects of heaven, unless they could hope 
first for a "long and dreamless sleep" in which to 
wash off the travel-stains of the past. 

160 Thoughts on the Central Radiame 

This is a feeling which is probably most common 
in youth or old age, when the ties to life are fewer 
than they are in its prime, and when the past or the 
future may well look almost intolerably long to the 
wearied imagination. It may be that in the miserable 
experience of some sufferers this deep weariness of 
life may not exclude the fear of death ; but so terrible 
a combination can scarcely be either common or 
lasting. Probably the normal state of things is that 
in which some degree of fear, or at least of reluctance, 
exists as a pure instinct ; rising and falling with 
physical causes, ready to give force to the terrors of 
conscience and the cravings of affection, but held in 
check by various considerations and controlled by 
the will, if not utterly subdued by trustful hope. In 
people of active energetic temperament, with keen 
susceptibility to sensuous impressions, one may some- 
times observe that no amount either of religious 
hope for another life, or of painful experience of this, 
will overcome the constitutional shrinking from the 
anticipated rending asunder of body and soul. They 
carry the same feeling through sympathy into their 
thoughts of the death of others, which appears to be 
almost physically shocking to them, however obviously 
acceptable to the person chiefly concerned Such a 
state of feeling is to those who do not share it as 
unaccountable as it is evident. Looking at death 
calmly, as one of the very few circumstances of quite 

The Fear of Death 161 

universal experience, any vehement disinclination to 
it would seem to be inappropriate as well as futile. 
But disinclination to some of its accidental circum- 
stances is but too easily intelligible. This is probably 
another reason why the shrinking from it often seems 
to increase as youth is left behind. The very young 
cannot know how terrible a thing sickness is ; those 
who have watched many deathbeds can scarcely 
forget the awful possibilities of physical suffering. 
And yet it seems probable that many of the worst 
appearances are more or less delusive. A very 
moderate experience of sick rooms suffices to show 
that actual suffering bears no exact proportion to its 
outward manifestations. Be this as it may, physical 
suffering is clearly no necessary accompaniment of 
death, and the dread of pain which makes us shrink 
from the prospect of mortal illness is quite a different 
thing from the real instinctive dread of death : it 
should indeed, and often does, act powerfully in 
reconciling us to the prospect of death. 

In like manner the unwillingness to be taken 
away from life in its fulness, to be cut off from the 
enjoyment of bright prospects, and debarred from 
the satisfaction of that ever-deepening curiosity with 
which every active mind must behold the mysterious 
drama going on around us — this unwillingness is 
quite a distinct feeling from the shrinking of the 
flesh and spirit from dissolution. It is a feeling 

s. 11 

162 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

which should in reason belong in its full force only 
to those who look upon death as the end of all things, 
and for whom, therefore, it should at least have no 
terrors. Is it some mysteriously intense appetite, or 
an inveterate confusion of thought, which hinders 
most people from perceiving that not to exist cannot 
possibly be in the slightest degree painful or even 
unpleasant ? If, on the other hand, we regard death 
merely as a transition from one state of existence to 
another (and of an existence possibly of infinite 
duration), we open the door to all extremes of 
glorious or fearful expectation, and the event itself 
shrinks into insignificance. From this point of view, 
as well as from the last, though for such different 
reasons, the important question is not when we die, 
but how we live. Religion and philosophy on different 
grounds combine to impress upon us the continuity 
and mutual dependence of successive "dispensations" 
or "developments." We cannot conceive of, much 
less really believe in, any state of existence in which 
we can have any interest wholly disconnected from 
our interest in this life. The laws which regulate the 
world we know must be in some degree the laws of 
any world in which we can conceive of ourselves as 
existing and retaining our identity, and it is hard to 
understand how any rational being can find a fancied 
safety in the mere delay of an inevitable crisis. Of 
course the theological origin of such a fancy is 

The Fear of Death 163 

familiar enough ; but the result is, I think, as 
unworthy of its own religious basis as it is of our 
human dignity. To suppose that we can have any 
reasonable ground of confidence for this life either in 
or apart from an Almighty Being whom we cannot 
trust with our destiny in the next, is certainly not 
more foolish than it is faithless. Our hopes for this 
world and for the next must rest upon one foundation, 
— our faith must be equally prepared for trials in 
respect of both. Either death leads to nothing at 
all, and to fear it is unmeaning ; or it is a mere 
parenthesis, and to fear it is unworthy of those who 
believe in a righteous order. 

Still, while Life is sweet, we must needs shrink 
more or less from what at least looks like its untimely 
termination. If it were not for the conventional 
association of sorrow with death already referred to, 
few, perhaps, would be selfish enough to wish to 
detain the aged from their rest, and to themselves 
the prospect is rarely unwelcome ; but for the young 
in their springtime, or the middle-aged in their 
vigour, death necessarily involves a loss which is not 
the less real and need not be the less keenly felt 
because it may be regarded as overbalanced by the 
gain. Let our anticipations of life beyond the grave 
be as bright as they will, there can be no use in 
denying the preciousness of those which lie on this 
side of it ; and the most ardently hopeful must still 

n— 2 

164 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

feel that, if the choice lay with themselves, it would 
be wisest not to hurry over the preliminary phase. 
But the truth is brought home to us again and again, 
that we have not light enough to choose by. In the 
dimness we can faintly discern that life has other 
kinds of completeness besides length of days : — 

It is not growing like a tree 

In bulk, doth make man better be ; 

Or standing long an oak, three hundred year, 

To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere. 

A lily of a day 

Is fairer far in May — 
Although it fall and die that night, 
It was the plant and flower of light. 
In small proportions we just beauties see, 
And in short measures life may perfect be. 

As the years go on, there gathers a special radiance 
of eternal youth around some of the figures from 
whom all our hopes in this world have been most 
sharply severed. There are lives so rounded and 
crowned by their completed deeds of love, that 
Death seems to have appeared in the fulness of their 
prime only to consecrate them for ever; others stand 
apart from human ties in a solitude which makes 
time seem of little consequence, and the grave a not 
unfamiliar country. In all these cases we may even 
now see a fitness in what, according to mere reckon- 
ing of time, would be called unseasonable. And if 
we can catch glimpses of these things from without, 

The Fear of Death 165 

there are no doubt many inward dramas which refuse 
to square themselves with the external framework of 
human life. We do not know to what unfathomable 
necessities the times and seasons of life and death 
may correspond ; and as little do we know, in looking 
at each other's lives, what may be unfolding or what 
may be concluded, as seen from within. That which 
seems to others a cutting short of activity, may be to 
ourselves the laying down of arms no longer needed ; 
our eyes may see the haven, where our friends can 
see only the storm ; or if we cannot see a fitness in 
the time of our death, is that a strange thing in such 
a life as this ? 


In our day a considerable change has taken place 
in the attitude of thoughtful people towards what 
used to be called "the supernatural." The Psychical 
Research Society, whose very existence is the result 
of a change in our point of view, has no doubt brought 
about a still further modification of it, of which I at 
least am quite unable to take any precise measure, 
and which seems to be telling in two opposite direc- 

It has undoubtedly diminished the difficulty of 
believing that there may be a real kernel of fact in 
many stories which forty years ago would have been 
contemptuously disposed of as a mere " parcel of lies." 
This increase of readiness to consider and inquire into 
mysterious incidents is of course part of a much larger 
change in the tendencies of modern thought 

1 The substance of an address given to the Sunday Society 
at Newnhain College. 

Signs and Wonders 167 

On the other hand the attempt, in so far as it has 
been successful, to classify and account for such 
phenomena, has in some slight degree encroached 
upon the area of mystery, and has thus seemed to 
lessen the number of opportunities for wonder. 
Some phenomena have by this process been reduced 
in rank, and messages purporting to come from an 
unknown world of spirits have been lowered to the 
level of interesting cases of thought-reading, or mere 
pranks of the " subliminal mind." 

But to encroach upon a region is not the same 
thing as to narrow it, unless the further boundary be 
fixed ; and the further boundary of the supernatural, 
or, as I would rather say, of the superhuman, has, I 
suppose, never even come within sight. Its mysteries 
are not so much impenetrable as unfathomable. We 
need have no fear that the sources of wonder will 
ever really be dried up. We have, I believe, gained 
rather than lost, even in romance, by the attempt 
to study scientifically what for so long some of us 
have enjoyed in spite of science. 

There has also been, within my own recollection, 
a marked change of feeling — perhaps I ought rather 
to say a marked diffusion of changed feeling — with 
regard to miracles, which from being regarded as 
evidence in favour of the creeds with which they were 
associated have come to be felt chiefly as obstacles 
to the adoption of those creeds. Of course this is the 

168 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

natural result of the popular notion that miracles 
meant the occurrence of impossibilities — a notion 
involving a contradiction in terms. But even if the 
word be understood in its proper sense of a wonder 
merely, it is obvious that the more wonderful an 
occurrence is, the more it stands in need of being 
itself proved before it can be used as a proof of 
anything else. 

Whether our faith in spiritual power will in time 
grow strong enough, and be sufficiently corrected and 
tested by increasing knowledge, to warrant our ac- 
cepting such wonders as belong to our present creeds, 
or whether our critical faculties will succeed in dis- 
entangling the true faith from obstructive legends, 
remains to be seen. It does not on the face of it 
seem unlikely that, in any great crisis in the life 
either of individuals or of the race, wonderful lights 
should be thrown on, or reflected from, the depths of 
inner experience. But the subject of miracles is 
quite beyond my scope. I aim only at suggesting 
some thoughts as to our right attitude with regard 
to such signs and wonders as may occur spontaneously 
(unsought, that is, by ourselves) in our own experience, 
considered as bearing on practice, and especially on 
our religious life. 

And here we must distinguish between signs and 
wonders. Not all wonders are signs (though it may 
be hard to find anything wonderful which is quite 

Signs and Wonders 169 

without significance), and certainly not all signs are 
wonders. By a "sign" for my present purpose I 
mean something which affords direction. A flag or 
a whistle may do this without exciting any wonder. 
And our wonder may by strongly excited by some- 
thing unfamiliar and striking — say, for instance, a 
mirage or an apparition — which has no practical 
bearing on our conduct. 

I suppose that all study of nature (including 
human nature) tends to increase our sense of being 
immersed in mystery in all directions — of the ex- 
istence of mysteries unfathomable, or at any rate 
unfathomed by us, not only around but within us. 
To this indeed we are so much accustomed that on 
many of us it makes but little impression. Yet there 
are moments when the surrounding mystery seems 
to draw near and to become palpable — to lay as it 
were a finger on us individually. A dream, a 
waking vision, words spoken, as it were, in our mind's 
ear, even a mental sensation, and perhaps still more 
a significant coincidence, may startle us with the 
sense of receiving a communication from the unseen 
— a personal intimation. 

I said just now that not all signs were wonders. 
Perhaps the most impressive and suggestive of all the 
intimations we are considering are those signs of 
which the wonder consists, not in anything abnormal 
in the method of their communication, but in the 

170 Thoughts on the Central Radicmee 

appropriateness of the communication itself to the 
circumstances of the moment — in the combination of 
events, ordinary in themselves, but significant in the 
fact of their combination — coincidences, in short, 
unplanned and uncontrollable by us. It is not easy 
to relate these experiences, because their significance 
often depends on long, and perhaps minute, chains of 
circumstances and feelings which can be known only 
to ourselves. 

Under this head (and protected by the same 
natural veil of privacy) come most of those significant 
occurrences of which we speak as answers to prayer 
— coincidences or correspondences between our re- 
quests and our allotments. 

Any attempt to trace the full significance of such 
coincidences would lead us beyond our present scope, 
but there is one remark which it seems worth while 
to make about them — they have, so to speak, the 
merit of being not of our own making ; they cannot 
be suspected of arising from disordered nerves or 
from mere imagination. There is in them nothing 
akin to the unlawful dealing with possibly unhallowed 
or noxious powers of which so many of us feel an 
instinctive (and I cannot but believe a salutary) 
dread in regard to consciously invited "spiritual 
manifestations." For the purpose of serious study 
some things may be justifiable which no one should 
do out of mere curiosity. I cannot attempt to draw 

Signs and Wonders 171 

for others the line between lawful and unlawful 
dealings with "spirits" — but I am very sure that 
there is great danger in disregarding it. 

Spontaneous personal intimations include not 
only coincidences, but the less historical and verifiable 
cases of presentiments and premonitions, of know- 
ledge "without outward information," of mysterious 
promptings to perform certain acts or visit certain 
places, of apparitions and visions and dreams and 
voices. Granting, for the moment, as I believe no 
one can wholly deny, the veracity of those who relate 
such experiences, the questions cannot but arise : 
How are we to estimate their value as intimations ? 
What is for us the practical and religious value of a 
wonderful sign or a significant wonder? How far 
does the fact that an experience is unaccountable 
and mysterious in its origin bestow on it, or deprive 
it of, any rightful authority over us ? 

Those to whom these experiences come will not 
be likely to undervalue them ; but even they must 
feel that the question how far we are justified in 
obeying them is one of some difficulty and importance. 

It is not, I believe (as it might appear), needless 
to insist that it can only be by the exercise of a real 
ethical judgment that we can be preserved from 
delusions in these dangerous regions ; that we must 
never, in obedience to the promptings of unseen and 
unknown powers, transgress the very slightest of the 

172 Thoughts on the Central Badicmce 

restraints imposed by conscience, by good faith or 
fitness, or even by common sense. It is only when, 
on all these well-recognised grounds, we are sure 
that the step mysteriously indicated is fully open to 
us, that any question of obedience to the suggestion 
can arise. 

But even so, there are many who would hesitate 
to take any action at all in obedience to an imper- 
fectly explicable summons, especially if the action 
involved trouble or inconvenience. 

The most obvious ground of hesitation is the 
general belief that openness to mysterious com- 
munications implies some degree of nervous weakness. 
Professor James indeed urges, and I think with 
reason, that the results of these impressions, which 
have in point of fact been experienced by most of 
the great religious leaders, are in no way discredited 
by the fact — if it be a fact — that the capacity for 
receiving them belongs chiefly to what he calls the 
neurotic temperament. He maintains that the only 
really important question is as to the intrinsic quality 
of the communication, as making for or against 
edification and enlightenment ; that, in short, truth 
is none the worse for having been discerned by the 
spirit through some gap or chink which may betray 
a lack of normal thickness of the veil of the flesh — 
perhaps even at the cost of some damage to that 
useful protecting screen. 

Signs <md Wonders 173 

It is satisfactory to be assured that truth is none 
the worse for being mysteriously communicated 
But still we must ask, Is a message any the better 
for the mystery of its origin ? Does the mystery in 
fact tend in any degree to stamp it as divine? 

The Society of Friends, to which (not by birth 
but by conviction) I belong, has in its annals and 
biographies a rich store of records of "remarkable 
occurrences" (as Friends used to call them) of this 
kind. Such incidents are very familiar not only in 
the past but in the present everyday life of Friends, 
by whom they are often regarded with a certain 
reverence, as bearing a sort of divine stamp — as in 
some degree evidence of a "right guidance" from 
above. Such a feeling is no more peculiar to Friends 
than are the "remarkable occurrences" themselves, 
but it is perhaps amongst Friends that it is most 
fully recognised and accepted — a very natural result 
of the special stress laid by them on the belief in 
immediate divine guidance ; in what William Law calls 
"perennial inspiration" — in the possibility and the 
blessedness of "walking with God" as did Abraham. 

But the very preciousness of the thought of 
divine guidance makes it the more imperative a 
duty to test in every possible way — at least to expose 
freely to every kind of test — whatever claims our 
attention as coming from that supreme source of 

174 Thoughts on the Central Radicmce 

My own reply to the questions I have asked would 
be that the mere fact of mystery or unaccountableness 
in the transmission of a message can neither give nor 
take away authority. I believe entirely with Professor 
James that this must depend on the intrinsic nature 
of the communication, and on the appeal made by 
it to the enlightened conscience. A communication 
which, being unaccountable, must of necessity be 
anonymous, should certainly be subjected to every 
test by which any other anonymous communication 
would be tried before being allowed to influence our 
action. As far as we can have any knowledge of the 
unseen world of spiritual existence, so far, I believe, 
do we find the old distinctions between good and 
evil, weighty and trivial, clean and unclean, holy and 
unholy, helpful and harmful, and so on, running 
through everything. In the invisible as well as in 
common daylight we need the exercise of spiritual 
discernment ; and the deeper and more central the 
power, the more essential is a "single eye" in meet- 
ing or in wielding it. 

That single eye can, I believe, be preserved only 
through obedience to the innermost and central light 
which shines through conscience, — through a resolute 
" seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteous- 
ness." But ample experience proves that in that 
search we are often aided and prompted by impulses 
springing from depths we cannot fathom — nay, I 

Signs and Wonders 175 

believe that it is in obedience to such impulses that 
the greatest heights of spiritual life and blessing 
have been attained. Who can fathom the sources of 
inspiration, and who will dare to say that we could 
afford to forego them? 

Each instance of a personal intimation must of 
course be judged on its merits. But equally of course 
our judgment on all such matters will be in ac- 
cordance with our underlying convictions respecting 
the nature of our relation to our Maker and the 
right method of approaching Him. It is the special 
trouble of our times that on these fundamental 
questions there is so much of doubt and divergence 
amongst us. I cannot here attempt to do more than 
avow my own point of view, without attempting any 
vindication of its reasonableness. 

My own belief, then, is that it is right and reason- 
able for us to expect that we should be able to hold 
some immediate communication with the Father of 
our Spirits ; that He in whom we live and move and 
have our being does in fact exercise in various ways 
some degree of guidance towards all His creatures ; 
a guidance which, as we have faith and patience and 
courage to yield ourselves to it, becomes more and 
more perceptible and clear and satisfying, until at last 
life may be altogether transfigured by it. The more 
elementary and universal form taken by this guiding 
Power lies, no doubt, in the broad highway of morality 

176 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

— of recognised principles of Tirtue and social 
obligation. To many people these outward and 
universally applicable rules seem to be the only 
accessible guides of conduct, and it may be that for 
such they are, in truth, sufficient. But when we can 
in sincerity say that "All these we have kept from 
our youth upwards," a more intimate "counsel of 
perfection" may be addressed to us individually: 
" Sell all and follow Me" ; and by those who, to the 
best of their ability, are truly following in the narrow 
upward path that leads towards life eternal, it has 
again and again been experienced that there come 
from time to time touches of the very "finger of God" 
— whispers of the inspeaking "still small voice" — 
gleams of the innermost radiance — which do guide the 
willing soul ever upwards and onwards, not indeed 
towards any selfish or self-chosen ends, but towards 
the one supreme object of spiritual desire, the very 
Fountain of Life itself. 

It is in this region that I believe that we may 
rightly look for actual personal intimations of the 
divine pleasure ; but even in this region, and perhaps 
in it especially, the need of watchfulness is unceasing. 
Here the imagination may easily play us false. In 
" high places " there are still snares (and ever fresh 
snares) for self-love and self-importance ; and that 
divine education which teaches us at all times largely 
through our mistakes and failures, may well become 

Signs cmd Wonders 177 

more severe in its discipline as the pupil advances 
from the elementary to the higher stages of instruc- 

In all the best mystical teaching there are 
warnings against the snares of the imagination, and 
the greater safety of the hard and humble pathway 
of mere faith is insisted upon. No doubt experience 
teaches this emphatically to all who have long tried, 
in the scriptural sense, to " walk with God." 

I have referred to the accumulated experience 
of the Society of Friends with regard to personal 
intimations of divine " requirements." Two practices 
have come to be recognised by Friends as of great 
value as safeguards against delusion in this innermost 
region of experience. The first is "waiting"; the 
second, seeking "Friends' unity." 

Not to act hastily upon any impression of a 
mysterious kind — to "dwell under it" or "pause upon 
it" long enough to test in some degree its abiding 
power, is the most obvious dictate of ordinary 
prudence. The wisdom of sharing such impressions 
with others before acting upon them is, I believe, 
equally clear, though it is not of course applicable 
in all cases. But where practicable it is a most im- 
portant preservative of sanity. As Sir William Gull 
once said in this connection, "The human mind 
needs ventilation" ; and I believe that communication 
with other minds known to be imbued with right 

S. 12 

178 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

principles is the best corrective of spiritual self- 
importance, as well as of other morbid tendencies 
besetting the religious life in its intenser developments. 

People often seem to think that the claim to be 
under Divine Guidance is a claim to infallibility — 
forgetting that the higher the teaching the more 
patience and submission is needed-for its right inter- 
pretation, and the more painful will often be the 
processes through which its lessons are to be learnt. 
I specially value the emphatic denial of this claim to 
infallibility which is involved in the Quaker tradition 
(and out of which indeed our whole system of 
"discipline" has been built) — the recognition of the 
need for the most careful testing and correction of 
individual impulses by the collective judgment of the 
meeting. Friends have learnt to recognise not only 
that the initiative in any divinely guided service must 
belong to the individual, but also that the wisdom, 
and in some cases even the duty, of the individual is 
to submit his own interpretation of such a call to 
the united judgment of his fellow-disciples. In this 
view there is, I think, an important suggestion as to 
the path of safety for the inwardly impressionable. 

Mysterious personal intimations may be said to 
belong to that twilight region where the brightness 
of day begins to give place to the vaster and more 
remote light of the stars ; even as the whirlwind and 
the fire were quenched before the " still small voice." 

Signs cmd Wonders 179 

The very possibility of communion with God must 
ever be a profound mystery ; therefore we recognise 
in mystery the fitting atmosphere for communications 
from above, being, as it is, intimately associated with 
our deepest sense of authority. But mystery, like 
music, in itself neither proves nor authorises, but 
appeals — and for the moment at least exalts — as with 
the pledge of a beauty not belonging to earth. Such 
is the power of the indescribable and unforgettable 
beauty seen sometimes on the faces of the newly 
dead — and seen nowhere else — one of the tenderest 
of all signs. Such, again, are visions of the departed, 
or of angels. Of these glimpses of glory we do not 
ask what is the practical bearing. Rather we desire 
to ponder them in our hearts with thankful wonder 
at the tender mercy and loving-kindness which 
vouchsafes them. 

The thing we are trained to look for is indeed the 
thing we become capable of seeing. As the painter 
sees colour and form, and the musician hears harmony, 
so the heart trained to devout contemplation will see 
rays of heavenly light and will hear the accents of 
love where to others all may seem barren and silent. 

"Where one heard thunder and one saw flame, 
I only knew He named my name.'' 



Dear young Friends, 

Tidings reach me of you now and then 
which give me a deep interest in the effort you are 
making to uphold and to spread a knowledge of that 
pure Truth and Life by which our Society has been 
made a blessing to generation after generation, not 
only of its own members but of the surrounding 
world. As you may know, I am one of those to 
whom the practice of that united worship " after the 
manner of Friends," which aims above all things to 
be a worship in spirit and in truth, came (at a 
moment of need) as a deliverance and a possession 
of quite unspeakable value. From the time of the 
first meeting I ever attended — more than thirty years 
ago — my earnest desire has been to contribute what 
I could towards the maintenance of the one form of 
united worship which seems to me to be absolutely 

Letter to Yov/ng Friends 181 

pure, allowable, fitting and effectual, as offered by 
the humble and contrite in spirit to the High and 
Holy One that inhabiteth Eternity. 

I do not wish or need to write to you of the 
grounds on which I have felt that this claim could 
be made on behalf of our manner of worship. It 
is enough at this moment to say that I am deeply 
convinced that for many — probably in these days for 
an increasing multitude — it is the only manner of 
worship quite free from practices incompatible with 
entire sincerity. What more it may become to those 
who in humble trust and diligence steadily practise 
it, I will not try to say. I hope that you know, or 
will know, more by actual experience than any words 
of mine could describe. 

But now there is a matter on which I must try 
to send you some of my thoughts. The very central 
truth of Christianity, which is of course the central 
truth of Quakerism, is that which Wm. Penn so 
wonderfully sets forth in No Cross No Crown. 
What I want to do is not to preach this doctrine to 
you, for that I trust would be superfluous, but to 
point out to you the special need there is in our day 
for a practical testimony to its truth. 

The passion of pity has of late years — (and by 
" late years " I mean a longer time than any of you 
have lived) — this passion, beautiful and precious in 
itself, has of late years risen to a height which 

182 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

appears to me to be full of danger — and over against 
which there is great need that we should set a deeper 
and more courageous faith. On every hand we meet 
with systems based on the abhorrence of suffering ; 
systems resting on the theory that God — being Love 
— cannot have willed that we should suffer ; and the 
desire to get rid of suffering seems to be carrying 
multitudes off their feet ; not only carrying them 
into present extravagances, but, I greatly fear, in 
many cases carrying them, unawares perhaps but 
surely, towards the logical conclusion that since (on 
their view) suffering cannot be inflicted by the hand 
of Love, then God, the author of this world so full of 
inevitable suffering, cannot be Love. 

The great need of the present time seems to me 
to be that we should see the glory of the Cross — that 
we should realise the power of suffering to cleanse, 
to strengthen, to raise. Friends have always recog- 
nized, more clearly I think than other Protestants, 
the baptizing power of suffering. It is only by taking 
up the Cross that we can see its glory. 

To some of you it may be that no suffering has 
yet come which you would think worthy to be- called 
a Cross. But, dear Friends, even children must know 
in some degree what it is to be disappointed, thwarted, 
crossed Every pain, even the slightest vexation, has 
in it something of the nature of the Cross of Christ, 
in that it makes us feel that the Father's will may 

■ Letter to Young Friends 183 

run counter to our own will ; and that it gives us the 
opportunity of tasting in our own experience that 
deepest and purest of joys — the joy of preferring 
His Will when it crosses our own. 

And there is no fear that as time goes on, any 
one of you will lack abundant opportunity for this 
most blessed experience. God has so ordered things 
in this world of our pilgrimage that tribulation must 
sooner or later befall every one of us. Let us meet 
it from the first in the spirit of good soldiers of our 
Lord Jesus Christ — not flinching from any pain or 
opposition that we may meet in treading the narrow 
upward path that leadeth unto life — life more abun- 
dant for ourselves, life radiating blessing for others. 

The spirit of the Crucified One is the spirit of 
victory. True it is a victory which must be won in 
the first place over the adversary in our own hearts, 
and which begins, like all fruitful seeds of life, with 
that which is least. We cannot rise at will or in a 
moment to "the measure of the stature of the fulness 
of Christ." But Jesus himself "grew and waxed 
strong in spirit" — and from the first we can set 
ourselves steadily to follow Him. We can, like our 
Master, "learn obedience" by the things (be they 
great or small) which we have to suffer ; by denying 
our very self where it is contrary to the Will of 
God, and being ready to give up what we hold 
dearest if it would beguile us from our loyalty. 

184 Thoughts on the, Central RaMame 

I do not mean by this only such great sacrifices as 
are at times called for from some ; I mean the daily 
discipline through which from the beginning each 
one of us is taught, if we are willing to learn, to 
choose obedience rather than self-indulgence whether 
in small things or great — whether in the outward 
act or in the inner disposition of the heart. This 
discipline is, I believe (for I have found it so in my 
own experience, and I know it has been felt so by 
others) tenderly adapted by the Father's care and 
loving-kindness to the ability and the special needs 
of the willing learner. Even a child can understand 
that to love God with all his heart and mind and soul 
and strength is the first and great commandment, 
and that to live as is right and pleasing in his sight 
is our supreme duty and our supreme joy ; for which 
we may well be content to forego whatever would 
hinder it, however strong the attraction. Such 
faithfulness will not "cost us nothing." Can we not 
rejoice that it is so ? That even we may have some- 
thing costly to offer ? May not every one of us, even 
the weakest, keep before our minds the angel's song 
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, 
good will towards men " as the very end and aim of 
our existence ? 

The path of blessing is the rugged and uphill path 
of victory. It is by taking up our cross and following 
the Lamb wherever He may lead us that we may, 

Letter to Yowng Friends 185 

and do, overcome the world. To flinch from suffering, 
to allow ourselves even in thought to prefer ease to 
obedience, is to court defeat. All good, all beauty, 
all real victory depends on putting first that which 
really is first — on seeking first the kingdom of God 
and his righteousness. 

The desire to avoid suffering for ourselves, and to 
extinguish it for others, is so natural, it seems at 
times so overpowering, and yet, if yielded to, it is so 
certain to carry us away from the narrow path which 
leads to eternal life, that I look with great jealousy 
and dread upon any system which is based upon it or 
appeals to it. To call pain evil — to fail to distinguish 
between suffering and wrong — to prefer freedom 
from sickness or sorrow to the heavenly discipline 
which leads at whatever cost to " glory, honour, and 
immortality" is assuredly to sell our birthright for 
a mess of pottage. The Christian life must always 
be a life of warfare. Some of us indeed have learnt, 
from the Prince of Peace himself, that our warfare 
must not be against our brethren, but against those 
powers of darkness which are the common enemies 
of us all. But let us see to it that in striving for 
peace, we rise above, not sink below, the soldier's 
ideal of energetic, self-sacrificing loyalty. 

I make no attempt to solve in theory the ancient 
problem as to the meaning of good. But I know 
that no idea of goodness can be a worthy one which 
does not require of us courage and patience. The 


186 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

power to rejoice in tribulation, to glory in the Cross 
of Christ, lies at the very heart of any goodness I 
can recognise. We as Christians have no need of 
fine speculative distinctions. All we need is that it 
should be our delight to do and to suffer the will of 
God — that his law should be truly within our hearts. 
Seek first — it is all a question of what should come 
first. Resolutely and steadfastly to seek first the 
kingdom of God is to have that singleness of eye 
through which our whole body shall be full of light. 
It is to attain the true simplicity — the simplicity not 
of exclusion, but of a right subordination ; and this 
simplicity it is which transfigures life. This simple, 
dutiful, steadfast, and victorious life, at once blessed 
and blessing, is the life to which as Christians we are 
called, and which as "Friends of the Truth" we 
believe it to be in a peculiar manner our place to 
exemplify. We hear a good deal about "giving the 
message of Quakerism " ; but I think our first 
business is to live the life of Quakerism — the " solid, 
innocent life," through which more than by any 
words, Friends have been wont to defend their 
strongholds, proving by actual experiment the all- 
sufficiency of the Life of Christ in the heart. 

With love, your friend, 

Caroline E. Stephen. 

April, 1907. 


While dwelling on the possibilities of a Divine 
irradiation of our lives, we cannot forget how com- 
pletely the great standing problem of the existence 
of evil carries us out of our depth, so that theory 
has never been able to find any entire solution of it : 
In practice indeed it is solved, or dissolved — I mean 
rendered harmless — by faith ; that is, by the insight 
which pierces through appearances and dares to test 
the purifying power of pain by submission of the 
will. Those who have opened their hearts to the 
Divine discipline know that Love is at least as 
unfathomable as pain. They know that there is at 
the heart of all suifering a joy not to be known at 
less cost ; that the brightest gleams of " the glory 
which shall be revealed" have come to us only 
through clouds and darkness. In looking on at pain 
from outside, we cannot see this glory. It is only as 
we enter into the depths that it shines forth. 

For those who have actually tasted in their own 
experience the joy which is at the heart of sorrow, 

188 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

and the invigoration produced by victory over evil, 
it may yet be impossible to offer even in thought 
anything purporting to be a real solution of the 
problem of evil; but it is still more impossible to 
them to doubt that there is such a solution. They 
live in the presence of a glory which is felt rather 
than seen. They do not speak very freely of that 
which they know to be unspeakable ; but in propor- 
tion to their faith their whole manner of being 
becomes a witness to the emancipating power of 
trust in God. 

From this standpoint, we do not lose sight of the 
dark background ; but we have ceased to fear it. 

But others will say, the question is not as to the 
possibility of a satisfying if only practical solution of 
this awful problem, but as to the existence of any 
evidence for such a solution, or for the belief which 
it assumes. Can we know what is the truth as to 
the reality of a Divine Order ? 

The answer must surely be that we cannot know 
in the sense of being able to demonstrate it by 
purely intellectual methods, though we may know in 
the sense of having an unfaltering because well- 
grounded inward assurance of it; but at least we 
do know in what direction to look for Truth We 
can look upwards. We can watch — as those that 
watch for the morning — for Truth, Goodness, Beauty. 
Faith certainly contains a large element of Will. 

Conclusion, 189 

I do not mean by this the wilfulness which cherishes 
beliefs because of their pleasantness, or comforting 
effect, and refuses to weigh the evidence for un- 
welcome truth. I mean the steadfast will which 
refuses to be daunted by any pain in its search for 
truth ; which cleaves to the right in spite of all that 
would draw or drive it towards easier conclusions. 
I mean the resolve never to give up watching for 
the Highest Good ; never to yield to anything that 
clouds our spiritual vision ; not to be daunted by 
anything that the flesh or the devil can do to hinder 
us from this watch. 

We cannot wholly fail in this search as long as 
our hearts are really set upon it. It may well be 
that our theories are largely wrong ; our names for 
the eternal things may need much correction ; but 
the Eternal Realities themselves no more depend on 
the names we give them than do the stars. And we 
depend wholly on that which is eternal ; be the 
meaning of that word what it may. As we pass 
through the darkest times we come to know, as we 
steadily look upwards, "that the heavens do rule." 
Is this rule a grinding tyranny, or is it an Everlasting 
Order to which every spirit, if it did but know the 
whole, would gladly consent ? 

That it is so — that we do indeed live under an 
Everlasting Order of which the very heart and foun- 
tain is Love — is our faith. And the immediate effect 

190 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

of faith is to open the door of the heart to every 
possible dispensation, whether joyous or grievous, of 
the Fatherly discipline in which we trust. 

The modern thought of the Divine Being while 
it has gained much in vastness and in solemnity, 
has lost something in Fatherly tenderness. It has 
become less personal than of old; and this is felt 
by many who have not ceased to seek after Him as 
adding greatly to the difficulty of prayer. I believe 
it to be for many of us an inevitable though temporary 
phase in spiritual education. Single aspects of great 
and complicated subjects necessarily assume for a 
time, in minds on which they are just dawning, a 
proportional importance which does not belong to 
them in the final synthesis. And it is no wonder if 
our expanding acquaintance with the whole wonderful 
system of natural law, and with the vast and troublous 
history of our race and its beliefs, should have de- 
prived many of us for a time of the power to repose 
in the simplicity of that " revelation to babes " which 
is after all the deepest and the most lasting of faiths. 
This revelation lies in the life and power of the Man 
of Sorrows who died on the Cross ; who came " to 
reveal the Father." 

While human fathers are what some of us have 
known them to be, we shall not easily give up the 
trust that in the Supreme Source of Good there is 
the antetype of that most profound type of protecting 

Conclusion 191 

and guiding Love. It cannot be that He who made 
fathers and mothers is Himself but an impersonal 
Power. The faith which seeks His face only the 
more earnestly for the darkness, and is ready to feel 
for His hand in every storm comes, I must believe, 
nearer to the truth than is possible to mere thought. 

There cam, at any rate be no insincerity in cleaving 
to the Highest, even while uncertain whether that 
title truly belongs to a Power or a Person. We 
cannot be wrong in maintaining through all that 
is temporarily chilling in thought, our resolute and 
humble search for, and fidelity to, whatever is truly 
Highest and Best. And the darkest hour may be 
that in which we most unreservedly surrender 
ourselves to the invisible, unapproachable, Source of 
Light. Some of us can say that in doing so our eyes 
have been opened to behold the Father's face. No 
one who has had this experience will ask whether it 
is enough. "Whom have I in heaven but thee, and 
there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison 
of thee " ; this is the natural and only language of 
the soul to which such vision is vouchsafed. 

And so, in a sense, I must believe that it will be 
with the race. The increase of knowledge and the 
accumulation of experience cannot but increase the 
difficulty of co-ordinating our thought by as much as 
they are destined to enrich its content. In struggling 
with intellectual difficulties, attention is diverted 

192 Thoughts on the Central Radiance 

from the growth of moral and spiritual life, to which 
nevertheless these very difficulties may be con- 
tributing. But if the process by which faith is 
evolved be indeed under the care of the Divine 
Author of all Good, we need not be daunted by 
any passing struggle. Faith and reason equally 
demand from us humility and patience, and equally 
assure us of the worthiness of the end in view. 

Therefore I look forward to the emergence of a 
fuller and riper faith, in which the wise and prudent 
shall be at one with the babe. In that faith we may 
trust that a wider thought will be combined with a 
firmer courage, and a deeper awe. 

Meanwhile we are, I trust, on the right track in 
our present earnest attempt to learn what Jesus 
Christ actually was, said and did here on earth, 
rather than what has been said and thought about 
Him by those who have claimed authority to teach 
in His Name. Such studies may or may not tend to 
confirm many of the doctrines taught in the Creeds ; 
but through them I believe that many may be brought 
to enter more fully into the meaning of the words 
"the love of Christ constraineth us." For as the 
sunbeams are one with the Sun, so is the Word of 
God one with God ; and when He " became flesh and 
dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, full of grace 
and truth," He did indeed " draw all men " to Him 

Conclusion, 193 

There are truths, and I believe the Divine nature 
of the Man Christ Jesus to be one of them, which 
can be understood only by immediate revelation. 
Be this as it may, it remains true that none can know 
the Father except through the Son, or the Son unless 
the Father draw him. We are, I trust, on the way to 
see more of " the light of the knowledge of the glory 
of God in the face of Jesus Christ " — as the Light of 
God Himself shines more and more into our hearts, 
and reaches us also in the varied loveliness of reflec- 
tion from all the human life hidden with Christ in